Kaspersky’s Free Antivirus will be available in the UK in October 2017

Kaspersky logoA few weeks ago I discovered that Kaspersky had launched a free antivirus program. I set out to find it but was initially thwarted as they were not making it available in the UK until October 2017. This is where a VPN comes in handy (see my blog post “What is a VPN and do you need one?“). Using TunnelBear I was able to log on to the US Kaspersky site without being diverted back to the UK site that wasn’t offering the product. Installing it was then straightforward.

Some of my computer support clients know that I’m not exactly a fan of Kaspersky antivirus products. I find them bloated and sometimes they have a serious impact on system performance. Nevertheless, I do accept that Kaspersky has a good reputation and loyal customers. Add this to the fact that a free antivirus program is likely to be “lean and mean”, offering only the bare essentials, and I thought it well worthwhile giving it a whirl. Another reason for trying it is that I’m constantly doing the rounds of free antivirus products trying to find the least annoying. The popup ads and cajoling to upgrade to a paid version are almost (but not quite) enough to get me to fork out for Norton.

So, I was quite keen to try a free product from a reputable company. And I have to say that I’ve been very pleased with it. No doubt this product is “a sprat to catch a mackerel”. Kaspersky don’t miss any opportunities within the software to point out the features that you can have only if you upgrade to a paid product. Some of the items they point out as being “unavailable” include:

  • Application Control
  • Firewall
  • Private Browsing
  • Webcam Protection
  • Anti-Banner
  • Network Attack Blocker
  • System Watcher
  • Parental controls
  • Safe Money
  • Privacy protection

Actually, the only one of these I would like to see in my antivirus is the last one as it “monitors activity of and prevents danger from malware (including ransomware)”.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of features not normally associated with free antivirus products that they do include, such as:

  • Password protection – if set, the program can not be modified or removed without the password
  • Web protection – scanning incoming web traffic to prevent dangerous scripts from running
  • Email scanning – scanning of both incoming and outgoing traffic
  • Protection against rootkits
  • Intelligent scanning that aims to minimise the impact when the computer is busy
  • Scanning of newly connected external devices (such as USB drives)

Kaspersky Free - Main Menu

You can have Scan and Database Update. You will have to “upgrade” (pay) to get Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, and Protection for All Devices.

As far as I am concerned, the most important aspect of free antivirus (apart from its ability to stop viruses, of course) is that it should just get on with its job without endless un-necessary popups telling me how great it is, how much better it would be if I “upgraded” (to a paid product, of course) and so on. I’ve noticed that Windows Defender, for instance, has now started popping up a window telling you that no threats have been detected! Isn’t that a bit like a night-time security guard phoning his Managing Director to tell her that no-one’s broken in tonight?

Kaspersky Free - Virus Detected

Kaspersky did its job, but I don’t know why it popped up this notification 20-30 times

Anyway, Kaspersky Free Antivirus has done none of those irritating things in the time I’ve had it installed. The nearest it’s got to annoying me is to tell me a couple of times that a website doesn’t have a valid certificate. Just this morning, it intercepted a nasty email in my inbox and told me it contained a virus. That’s great. Thank you very much. But for some reason, it then popped up a notification somewhere between 20 and 30 times to tell me this. No idea what that was all about, but it certainly dealt with the problem.

So, a free antivirus product from a reputable company that doesn’t get in your face. As I write this, it has still not been made available in the UK, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find it as soon as it is released by googling for “Kaspersky Free Antivirus”.

AVG has re-worded its privacy policy, confirming that it will sell your browsing and search history

AVG LogoLong-term computer support clients of mine may know that I used to recommend AVG’s free antivirus program, but that I eventually stopped doing that because I didn’t like their tactics in “persuading” (misleading?) users to install trial versions of their paid product when the user had been trying to install (or update) the free version. The sort of things they would do included displaying red buttons for actions they didn’t want you to take and green ones for actions that they did want you to take.

Now they’ve hit upon a new way of monetising their supposedly free product: they will sell the search and browsing history of their users. Some people may think “so what, it’s still a good deal?” but others, including Alexander Hanff, CEO of Think Privacy, think that this puts AVG “squarely into the category of spyware”. Hanff argues that antivirus software enjoys a trusted and privileged position in our computers in that it can get at parts of the system denied to most software and we trust it to combat virsues, malware, spyware, and the like. For its publishers to sell its users confidential data in this way constitutes a massive betrayal of that trust.

PirateAVG don’t seem to be too shy about this in their current privacy policy. They quite openly say:

“Why do you collect my data? We use data to improve our products and services; provide support; send notifications, offers, and promotions; and to make money from our free offerings with non-personal data.”

Surely it’s an oxymoron for them to say “…..to make money from our free offerings…..” It’s either free or it isn’t. If you’re selling my data then I’m paying a price: it isn’t free.

Some have said that AVG deserve praise for their honesty. PC World Magazine’s website says, for instance, “AVG at least deserves credit for helping users make informed decisions”. Maybe they do, but just because someone admits to doing something dubious, that doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to continue doing it.

I do realise that what I am going to say next probably displays a world-weary cynicism that not everyone will share, but I’m going to say it anyway:

Selling Out

Could this be AVG’s new motto?

We live in a world where a huge global enterprise (Volkswagen) appear to have been cynically and intentionally cheating on the whole world. Before the recent scandal broke, who would have thought them capable of such breathtaking dishonesty for their own ends? Now consider that this very same world is also inhabited by an organisation (AVG) whose avowed purpose is to keep us safe from the digital scumbags, thieves and con-artists that inhabit cyberspace. If AVG now admit that they are going to make money from their “free” product by selling our data, are we really naive enough to believe that we can trust them in all the other things that they do, deep in the bowels of our computers?

Volkswagen and AVG are completely different computers, but in a world that includes Volkswagen, I’m certainly not going to continue to trust AVG to look after my digital privacy and security – not now that they have more-or-less admitted that they are gamekeepers turned poachers (while still claiming to be doing their gamekeeper’s job).

A few bits and pieces this week..

Tab key Tip

Tab KeyWhen filling in forms online, or even just entering a username and password, it’s much quicker to use the tab and “shift tab” keys to move to the next and previous fields respectively than it is to fumble around with the mouse.

If you are not familiar with the “tab” key, it is always at the lefthand side of the keyboard. I think it’s always to the left of the letter “q”.

“shift tab” is executed by depressing the “shift” key and, while the shift key is still down, tapping the “tab” key. Getting used to using the tab key in this context is much quicker than typing one piece of information, fumbling for the mouse, clicking on the next “field”, and typing the next piece of information.

By the way, a “field” in computer terms is a specific piece of information on a form or otherwise entered into or held by the computer – eg “mobile phone number” can be a field and “surname” can be another.

Still on the subject of typing and keyboards:

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Mini

iPad Mini Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard CoverI’ve been finding the “virtual keyboard” on the iPad Mini more and more usable for “extended typing sessions” as I practise with it more and more. Nevertheless, I would prefer to have a “proper” keyboard that’s good enough that I forget about it for the duration of writing, say, 1000 words.

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad has a reputation for doing a good job for the iPad, and now the iPad Mini version has just been released. Naturally, though, the challenge for the manufacturer is even greater here, as there’s even less space to work with to create a comfortable, usable, keyboard on an iPad Mini than on an iPad. I’ve read a few reviews that vary in their assessment of how well Logitech have pulled this off. Here’s an example from Macworld. If there is a consensus at all, it is that the main keys are fine but some of the less important ones are too small to use without a conscious effort. At the time of writing, the only supplier I can find that has them in stock is Amazon. This is one occasion where I’d really like to get my hands on a product (literally) before buying it, so I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival on the High Street. My guess is that either John Lewis or PC World will get it first. Yes, I know that I’m somewhat less than enthusiastic about PC World, but I’m not relying on their technical expertise, and I think it unlikely that I would want to return it. Those are my two criteria for buying from PC World and they pass the test in this case.

Moving smoothly on to another High Street purchase..

Maplin Remote Switchif you find you need to reboot your router regularly and the router is not near your computer, you could buy a remote control switch (eg from Maplins) and keep the switch near your computer so that you can re-boot the router without leaving your chair!

These remote control switches are also very handy for other computer devices whose power switches are not easy to get to.

And, finally, AVG Antivirus (not for the first time)
 
I stopped recommending AVG Free as the best free antivirus program because their marketing tactics seemed to be getting more and more aggressive. They seemed to do everything possible to steer their users into installing (or upgrading to) paid-for versions rather than the free version. I often find it hard to find the free version on their website, so here is a current link to AVG Free.

Be careful, though, as they still try and get you to click on the paid version. They’re still showing orange buttons for links to the free version and green links to the paid version. No doubt they think we’ll be more likely to click on the green one as we’ll think it’s safe.

Concluding a look at the basics of Antivirus Software

Click here for the first part of this blog

How does your antivirus software detect threats?

This is likely to be through a combination of two different types of analysis:

  • Computer Screen and MicroscopeSignature-based detection – this is when the coding in the file being checked is compared with code that is known to be present in malicious files. Every day your antivirus software automatically connects to the online server (computer) of its manufacturer and downloads to your computer the latest list of known problems, together with their “signatures” – ie some specfic coding of the file that your antivirus software can check against the coding of the files it checks. This way, your antivirus program is usually no more than 24 hours behind in its knowledge of the known threats.
  • Heuristic detection – this is when the antivirus software looks at a number of factors in the suspect file, assign “weights” (or “scores”) to these factors, adds the scores together and then makes an overall judgment as to the likelihood of the file being malicious.

The downsides of anivirus protection

  • False negatives – if an antivirus program fails to detect a problem this is known as a “false negative”. The malware is then left free to do its business.
  • False Positives – your antivirus program may falsely accuse something on your computer of being malware. This is known as a false positive and can be a pain in the neck as it could take time, money, and expertise to analyse the situation and conclude that the antivirus program got a bit over-keen. Alternatively, you might just follow the on-screen prompts of your antivirus software and de-activate an important and valuable part of your system that wasn’t doing any harm.
  • Overhead – antivirus programs can slow down your system. With some complicated and large antivirus programs (disparagingly referred to as “bloatware”) this system degradation can be a noticeable nuisance – especially on older and less powerful systems.
  • Unhelpful messages – some antivirus programs are prone to popping up semi-cryptic messages about what they are doing and what they have found. These can be unsettling, annoying, and difficult to interpret.

Data file updating and program updating

Symbols representing internet connectionAs described above, almost all antivirus programs update their “virus definition files” or “signature definition files” every day. This does not affect the functionality of the program (ie what the program can do) – it just lengthens the list of known problems and how to recognise them. This is not the same thing as “updating the program”. Most antivirus programs now issue a new release towards the end of the year. Updating to a newer version of a program probably adds some bells and whistles but probably won’t change the basic antivirus detection of the program. I would suggest that it is far more important to ensure that the daily signature definition files are updated regularly than worrying about updating the program itself (especially if updating the program involves paying for it again).

So why bother with antivirus protection?

  • It’s not just your own system you are threatening. You could pass on malware to anyone you share files with.
  • The potential costs of not protecting your system are just too high. Over the years there have been several occasions when I have needed to re-format a client’s hard drive – ie wipe everything clean and re-install everything – to get rid of a virus infection. Apart from the disruption and potential loss of data, a half day spent trying to recover from a virus infection followed by resorting to re-formatting and starting again could easily cost £500-£750. Why would you risk that? Well, one response I sometimes hear to that question is “I only use my computer for web browsing and I use webmail so not even my emails are vulnerable”. My answer to that is that it could still take a day or more to re-format and re-install the basics of Windows, Windows Updates, printer drivers, other driver updates, browser updates, etc. And that is assuming that you have recovery DVDs or access to a recovery partition on your hard drive. Again I ask “why would anyone risk that”? And yet some people still do.They tend to change their minds, though, if they suffer a nasty infection that’s hard to remove. Please believe me when I say that it really isn’t worth waiting until that happens before installing an antivirus program.

If you want to do it now, with the minimum of fuss, download Microsoft Security Essentials from here and just follow the prompts. It’s free and it works.

But don’t do this if you already have an antivirus program installed. Don’t ever install more than one antivirus program on one computer. You might think that that would be a good way of improving your protection but what can happen is that the two competing products can get in each other’s way and cause the whole system to freeze.

Antivirus software intercepts and counteract threats posed by malicious software (“malware”). Malware tries to damage software installations, steal data, or extort money

Laptop in BedMalware threats can be introduced into your computer system in may ways, including when installing or downloading software, when opening data files that have been infected (such as word processing files), or when visiting websites that contain threats (the website owner may or may not know that the site contains threats).

There is a constant “cat and mouse game” or “arms race” going on between the creators of malware and the creators of antivirus software. The upshot of this is that most antivirus manufacturers update the “knowledge” of their products every day so as to keep up with the latest known threats.

What computer systems are at risk? In theory, any computer system that has any kind of link to the “outside world” is at risk. The most common way of creating that link to the outside world these days is by having an active internet connection. Any file opened or downloaded from the internet could, in principle, constitute a risk. Other media for passing malware include floppy discs (remember them?), CDs/DVDs, and USB pen drives (also known as thumb drives and – usually erroneously – memory sticks).

How can you stay completely safe from malware? Don’t connect your computer to the “outside world” (see above). There is no other way to be completely safe. This, however, is not feasible and certainly falls into the category of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. It is possible to protect your system from malware to the extent that it’s worth taking the risk of connecting to the internet.

Are Macs and Linux computers vulnerable to malware? In theory, yes. The main reason why almost all malware is experienced on Windows-based systems is that Windows in installed on the overwhelming majority of the world’s computer systems. If you were going to create something nasty, would you spend your time creating something that could attack 90% of the world’s computers or just 5%? It is also possibly true to say that Macs are inherently less vulnerable than Windows computers. In practice, most Mac users don’t seem to use any antivirus software. I don’t know about Linux users. In principle, mobile phones and tablet computers are also vulnerable but these, too, are not usually protected at the moment.

So, assuming that you have a Windows-based computer, what are the main features of the antivirus software you may install?

Free or Paid

Laptop and ThermometerPaid software has more bells and whistles than free versions. Personally, I’ve never been convinced by these. I even see them as a problem rather than a benefit as the more complicated the antivirus software, the more effect it has on system performance and the more likely it is to cause problems in its interactions with other parts of the system. The same, basic, antivirus detection is usually included in both paid and free versions of software.

Apart from the cost itself, there are other potential problems with paid software that include;

  • Occasional difficulties in renewing the annual licence – Norton and McAfee come to mind.
  • Automatic renewal of the licence – some of these companies will put their hand in your pocket for the renewal fee without warning you. No doubt this was mentioned in the (unread) small print of the “terms and conditions” you originally agreed to, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying when it happens. My experience is that companies who do this can be persuaded to give you your money back if you object to this and wish to cancel the renewal.

Scanning Action

There are two different things that can trigger your antivirus to check files. Both of these types of check are usually present and active in antivirus software:

  • Real-time scanning – this happens at the very moment you open a file or download it, and is intended to discover and neutralise a threat at the moment that the threat would otherwise have been launched. Your antivirus software might also refer to this as on-access scanning, background scanning, resident protection, or other names that suggest that the protection is there all the time, ready for any threat.
  • Scheduled scanning – this happens when all susceptible files are checked all at once according to a predefined schedule (usually once a week, by default).

Why have both types of scanning?

Suppose that a brand new virus appears today and your antivirus software does not know about it. This could mean that the virus will slip past the realtime scanner and be saved onto your computer. In the course of the next day or so, your antivirus software is likely to be updated with information about this new threat. If your system is set to run a scheduled scan then that scheduled scan may reveal the virus that had previously slipped past unnoticed.

To be continued next week…

It’s a whole year since I was congratulating myself on a whole year’s worth of weekly blog posts

2 candles on a calendarSo, what’s the same and what’s changed in the last year? To begin with, an update on the items I mentioned a year ago

Microsoft Security Essentials

I had recently introduced MSE as the antivirus program on my main computer. It’s behaved perfectly in the year since then. No viruses, no dramas, no complaints. It’s free, unobtrusive, and has a reasonable reputation for doing its job properly. I can’t imagine why I would want Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky or any of the other paid-for, bloated, antivirus programs.

AVG Free Antivirus

I said a year ago that I’d stopped recommending this as their marketing tactics (in leading users of the free product to upgrade to the paid product) had become too aggressive. They must have been listening to complaints such as mine as one client asked me this year to backtrack their system from the accidental installation of the paid version, and AVG offered to reinstate the free version that the client had previously been using. This is an improvement. Apart from the their marketing tactics, my experience of AVG Free antivirus had always been positive.

Zen Internet

Zen keep on winning awards for the best ISP. If price is the most important aspect of your broadband provision then I recommend investigating PlusNet as their support is also based in the UK. If you just want the best service and think it’s worth paying to make sure you get it, then I would continue to recommend Zen. In all the support calls I’ve made to ISPs on behalf of clients in the last 12 months I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the likes of BT, Talk Talk, AOL, Virgin, have done anything at all to improve the service they provide when something goes wrong with their broadband service.

What else has changed in the last year?

Dropbox

Dropbox logoDropbox is a cloud-based storage system that allows you to synchronise content between your different computers, access your content from other computers, and share folders (and their contents) with other people. It’s gained a really strong foothold over the last year or two and there are “apps” for other devices (such as iPhones and Android devices) that give you access to the contents of your Dropbox folders on those devices. Plenty of other apps are now also allowing you to share their data between your different computers/devices by using Dropbox. Dropbox doesn’t give you the most free space of the cloud-based storage systems. If you need lots of free space, look at Google Drive or Box or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. It does seem, though, that Dropbox is the most prevalent of the cloud storage services. If the initial 2gb of free space is not enough, you can either pay for more space or “earn” more space by recommending new users and/or jumping through other hoops that Dropbox offer you. Click here to get your free Dropbox account (and you’ll earn both yourself and me more free space if you use this link!)

Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoWindows 8 has just been released. It’s too soon to say how it’s being received but the predictions were that it might just not succeed in combining the requirements of touchscreen devices (such as tablets) with the requirements of a “proper”, keyboard and mouse, system. From what I’ve seen of it so far I think it might be OK.

I was thinking that it might be time to install it on my main machine, so I ran Microsoft’s Upgrade Assistant to see if any problems were anticipated. I was quite surprised to find that Windows 8 claims not to be compatible with Microsoft’s Access 2007 (although other modules in the 2007 version of Office appear to be ok). Life starts to get a bit complicated at this point as Office 2013 is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2013. So would people in my position upgrade to Access 2010 now or wait for Access 2013?

If it wasn’t for the fact that I need to get a grip on Windows 8 in order to help out my computer support clients then I’d let sleeping dogs lie for the time being. Another reason for waiting a while is that iTunes for Windows is not currently compatible with Windows 8. I think that most of my clients would only need to think about Windows 8 if they are going to buy a new machine. At the moment, if you buy a new Windows 7 machine you can upgrade to Windows 8 later for just £15, and maybe that would be the simplest decision to take for now. However, if you are thinking of buying a new Windows 8 machine then I would definitely run the upgrade assistant on your present setup to see if any other software will need to be upgraded or replaced.

Single candle on calendarIt’s a year since I started writing this blog every week. Before that I’d just dipped my toe in the water, wondering if I’d got anything useful to say on a regular basis to my computer support clients and potential clients. So, this week I thought I’d have a look back on some of the earlier posts and see what’s changed.

Microsoft Security Essentials

MSE LogoOn 16th October 2010 I wrote a post about Windows free antivirus program – Microsoft Microsoft Essentials. I had just installed it on an XP machine, and then I put it on my Vista Ultimate machine. It hasn’t caused me any problems apart from the tray icon disappearing initially on the XP version. The program just quietly gets on with the job. It’s caught a few nasties and seems to have dealt with them without drama. Admittedly, I don’t use these machines much except when providing remote computer support to clients who use Vista and XP themselves, and as destinations for backups from my main machine. Nevertheless, it appears to have done a near perfect job so far. It’s easy to install and very unobtrusive.

I now trust Microsoft Essentials to the extent that I have installed it on my new main laptop – a Samsung RF511 15.6 inch notebook. (This is my third Samsung and, so far, it’s as good as the first two.)

AVG Antivirus

AVG LogoShortly after blogging about Microsoft Security Essentials I covered AVG Free and even then I was complaining about how they try to mislead you into installing a trial of the paid version rather than installing/upgrading the free version. It’s my impression that this tendency has got worse during the last year and, frankly, I’m now too embarrassed to recommend it to clients unless I think they will be happy to do battle with AVG’s mis-directions. Recently, I’ve even seen AVG popups that suggest that AVG has saved the user from innumerable threats in the recent past. This is un-necessary, intimidating and misleading. I’d been recommending AVG for several years, but I now recommend Microsoft Security Essentials instead.

Zen Internet

Zen Internet Logoon 5th November last year I gave a plug, by way of a blog posting, to Zen Internet. They’d just won PC Pro Magazine’s award for Best Internet Provider for the seventh time. Guess what: they’ve just done it again.

As a consultant providing computer support to small organisations, independent professionals, and home users, I am often the person asked to deal with internet provider call centres on behalf of bemused and frustrated clients. I have some clients who call me to their homes and offices specifically to deal with these call centres because they find the experience too stressful, frustrating, and protracted to do it themselves.

Call centres appear to be geared to handling the maximum number of technical support calls with the minimum expertise. The way they do this is to force their support staff to follow a strict troubleshooting sequence that doesn’t require them to think: just to follow the instructions on their screen. The agent isn’t allowed to deviate from “the script”. so no real dialogue takes place with the client. It doesn’t seem to matter very much what the customer tells the “support agent”, the agent will still insist on making the poor client jump through exactly the same sequence of hoops every time. This approach tramples right over the customer’s primacy in the exchange. It’s appalling, frustrating and dis-empowering.

Compare this approach with that of Zen Internet. Their support people (based in Rochdale) actually listen to you, engage with you, and address your issue as a one-off that needs to be solved as such. It’s true that they don’t offer 24 hour support (it’s 08:00-20:00 weekdays and 09:00-17:00 at weekends), but that’s probably because they’re staffed by human beings – who need to sleep. Despite only being available during reasonable hours, Zen provide a much much better service than the likes of BT, Virgin and AOL. It’s true, though, that Zen are not competing on price. You won’t get broadband from them for a fiver a month. I use the Zen Lite service. It’s their “entry level” service and costs £15.31 plus VAT per month. It only includes 10gb downloads, but that’s fine for me as I don’t download movies or watch BBC iPlayer. As far as I am concerned Zen are worth every penny and I am happy to keep recommending them and plugging them.

So, as I’ve kept blogging on a weekly basis for a year there’s every chance I’ll stay with it. The readership is small but very very select! Actually, the readership is growing slowly and steadily, but I’ve not spent time and effort promoting it beyond the readers who matter most – my own computer clients and potential clients. I try and keep the focus on the needs of my own computer clients, but I am, of course, very happy for anyone at all to subscribe to the newsletter or read the blog online.

Thanks for reading!

PC Magazine defines antimalware as

“An umbrella term for antivirus programs, spyware blockers, intrusion detection systems (IDS’s) and other software that detects and eradicates unwanted input, which in almost all cases comes from the Internet.”PC Magazine

Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' stares out of screenThere are two types of antimalware programs – real-time scanners (also called on-access scanners) , and on-demand scanners. Real-time scanners run on your system all the time. This term covers all programs that call themselves “antivirus” programs. This is the type of protection that this blog post addresses.

There are scores of different real-time products available. How do you know which one is right for you? This is a very common question and is difficult to answer. Some of the criteria involved could include:

  • ease of installation and use
  • does it slow the computer down or get in the way
  • what range of threats does it guard against
  • how well does it detect threats
  • how well does it remove threats
  • what (if anything) does it cost

It must be a bit of a conundrum for the antivirus program manufacturers that the better their program, the less the customers notice it. What we want as users is to just get on with using our computers and not worry about the potential problems. I can’t imagine anyone getting excited by reading through the list of threats a particular program claims to guard against. It hurts our brains even trying to understand the nature of the threats that we are told a specific program will guard against. What we actually want is peace of mind and no hassles.

Also, I feel sure that the way you use your computer can affect the amount and type of threat you are exposed to. There is no doubt in my mind (but I have no proof for this) that having young people using a computer seems to increase the chance of catching something. I suspect that this is because young people are far more likely than older people to be using the internet in a way that involves sharing of files amongst themselves. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that the bad people out there have realised this and target this part of the market accordingly. Maybe it would be an idea for the antivirus manufacturers to market their products towards specific groups of people that represent the different emphases of threats that those people may be exposed to. Anyway, they don’t, so you can’t find an antivirus program claiming to be “Supreme for Silver Surfers” or “Fantastic Fort Knox protection for 15 year olds”.

So how do we make the best decisions as far as antivirus is concerned?

If you want to look into this in huge detail and make a highly informed decision then I recommend www.av-test.org. Each quarter they publish a set of results of testing many products that are available for one specific operating system (Windows XP, Vista, or 7). They then cycle through these operating system each quarter. They score each product according to protection, repair, and usability and display the results in sortable tables (see http://www.av-test.org/certifications.php)

My own experience

My own favorites tend to change a bit over time. For a few years I have been recommending AVG Free. I think that it still does a very good job technically, but their increasingly aggressive marketing often “misleads” users into installing the paid version rather than the free version and they’ve even used scare tactics once or twice in the last year.

I’ve been installing Microsoft’s own “Security Essentials” on my own and clients’ sytems for a while and I have to say that it certainly performs very well in at least one respect in that it is virtually transparent: it just gets on with the job, updating itself quietly in the background and only making its present felt when there’s a potential problem. I don’t recall a single instance (yet) of anything getting past “Security Essentials”.

One product that I’ve not used in-depth myself but which seems to be highly liked by clients is Kaspersky Internet Security. Unlike AVG Free (natch) or Microsoft Security Essentials, it is a paid-for product but it gets increasingly cost-effective if you buy a licence for several machines.

Nothing’s perfect

Whatever product you go for, keeping up with malware threats is just that – keeping up. The bad people are always going to be one step ahead. We just have to hope that our antimalware product is very very quick off the mark in detecting and dealing with new threats The only way to stay completely safe from online threats is to stay away from the internet and that really would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So, it stands to reason that it is possible for a threat to get past your protection.

…. and we have to live with that

You may think, then, that it would be a good idea to have another line of protection in the form of a second antimalware program. Good thinking, but don’t. You could break your system. If two real-time antimalware scanners go to check the same file at the same time the whole system could freeze.

So what do we do

Keep your antimalware program up to date, ensure that it is automatically updating its data files, and check that it is set to completely scan your system once a week or so. And, by the way, are you taking backups?

And what of Mac Users?

I’ll be investigating the current thinking on antivirus protection for Macs in the coming weeks.

You are browsing the web when a popup message box suddenly appears suggesting that you have been infected with something, or are at risk of something, or you are being offerred something unexpectedly (and suspiciously).

You don’t know whether it’s genuine or not and you may or may not be familiar with the website that you are visiting.

The options it seems to offer may be clear or ambiguous, attractive or unappealing, well-written or illiterate. Actually, none of that matters very much. What matters is whether you think that the message is genuine or is something you would prefer hadn’t popped up and which you’d like to get away from as quickly as possible. If you think that the message is benign and you are prepared to go along with what it suggests then the rest of this article does not apply.

If you are still reading, then you are concerned about the situation and you do not trust the message.

What do you do?

My advice is straightforward:

DO NOT

  • Click on the option that seems to offer a solution to a problem you didn’t have 30 seconds ago (and which you probably don’t have now)
  • Spend five minutes agonising over the potential consequences of the different options.
  • Try to work out the motivation of the perpetrators
  • Click on the “X” at the top righthand corner of the box to close it. Note: I just said DO NOT click on the “X” ……….

DO

  • Get out of the situation ASAP

    Clicking on any button in the box – even the “close” button – can have any consequence that the perpetrator has designed. All (s)he is interested in is getting you to click on something so that the master plan is triggered into action. I repeat, do not click on ANYTHING in the box – even the close button.

    Instead, close the browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox etc) immediately using the Task Manager. This is achieved as follows:

    Task Manager window with browsers loaded

    1) Right-click on the clock at the bottom right-handcorner of the screen.
    2) Left-click on the “Task Manager” option.
    3) Left-click on the “Applications” tab.
    4) Look for the line(s) in the list that relate to your internet browser. In the example here I have four different browsers running – Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Note that the description against each browser icon is the title of the web page that is being displayed in that browser window at the moment (eg I am looking at the BBC website in my Chrome browser). In this example, I have no programs loaded other than the four browsers. You would normally see the entry for your browser amongst entries for other open programs (eg Word, Excel).
    5) Click on the line for the browser in which the popup has just occurred.
    6) Click the “End Task” button.
    7) If you happen to have that browser open in several windows, such that there are several lines for it in the Task Manager, then I would recommend closing all of them.
    8) Close the Windows Task Manager by clicking on the “X” (top right-hand corner).

  • Run the “on demand” scanner of your antivirus program to check whether you machine has been infected

    As far as I know, all antivirus programs have the ability to run a complete scan of your computer “on demand”. If you can find that option and run it then it will provide some peace of mind. If you can’t find this option then your antivirus program is probably set to run a complete scan automatically once a day anyway so you will probably know in 24 hours if you did, in fact, “catch” something.
  • Consider downloading and running an antimalware program

    Be very very careful if downloading any other antimalware program as some of the offerings are exactly the opposite – malware disguised as antimalware.

If you need more help, remember that my remote control support service is available – see http://www.davidleonard.net/remote-support/

If you use AVG free then you will no doubt have noticed the popup screens that have been appearing in the last week or two (as below)

AVG Free update screen

Once again, we are being led by the nose to “upgrade” to a paid version of a product that is perfectly adequate in its free version. They highlight the “Recommended Protection” option in orange, hoping you’ll click on this button. To install the latest free version, however, you should click on the “Update Your Free Protection” button.

It seems to me that the free version is still perfectly adequate and I myself am going to continue to use it.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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