Anti-virus and Anti-Malware, Friend or Foe?

Some of the most common client questions we get are about about anti-virus  programs, viruses and malware etc.  Variations include:

a.  What Anti-virus program do you recommend and why?
b.  Do I still have an active anti-virus program?
c.  How come I may need a password or authorization to install a program?
d.  If I have an anti-virus program how did get these viruses?
e.  Are the paid anti-malware programs better than the free programs?
f.  How many protection programs do I need?  etc
g. What can you do to limit computer problems in the future?

I will do my best to simplify most of the questions above these in this post.

a.  What Anti-virus program do you recommend  and why?  There  are too many anti-virus product  for most IT professionals to master them all.   Often end users pick one but rarely take the time to understand it and implement the correct settings for all situations.  So rather  than comparing the BEST anti-virus program I will focus on the ones that have consistently and reliably worked for home use.   Even larger corporate clients have families and other computers at home.  So a quality free antivirus with companion paid  products paid versions for companies is most efficient for us to learn and  monitor results.  Some of the antivirus products are difficult to configure with ever changing interfaces too complex for our average clients to configure.  Our  Anti-virus selection criteria includes:  You need to be able to use similar products at home and at work, Configuring needs to be simple and fast.  It needs an acceptable amount of compatibility with industry standard anti-Malware:  Spybot and Malwarebytes (more on those later).  It should  not automatically include it’s own firewall product.  It needs to have  outstanding reviews from multiple consumer research groups for several years  running.  There needs to be a reliable English speaking tech support and tech tools readily available.  TrustedCTO needed to verify the product by testing it  removing viruses that other popular anti-virus programs in the running missed.  It needs to be proven reliable on multiple of our client computers.  Pricing for paid versions needs to be reasonable.  That criteria narrows the field quite a bit.  

  • 1. Avira Of the ones tested we have had the best overall experience with  Avira Free Antivirus (version 14+).   It is free for home use, it is so highly effective and runs very runs lean and  fast. the downside is just that it gives you a daily pop up asking you to upgrade to the paid version. As the company works hard everyday I encourage you to send them the money. However, the free version of the product is just as effective. Avira free does not “expire” but be alert because you will need to  re-installed when new versions come out around Thanksgiving every year. The old version still works but the new version is always better.  Avira is out top recommendation for home use and for all XP and Windows * computers.
  • 2. Microsoft Security Essentials.  MSE is our top recommendation for small businesses running Windows 7   It is simple to learn and and gets a B+ for effectiveness.  It runs lean enough to not slowdown your computer.

Please  beware wary of fake anti-virus programs. Generally you were  unaware that you installed the fake protection program. It will say you have  viruses or that you have committed a crime, however it is just a virus scam  called “ransom-ware” The fake program will probably ask you for financial  investment before promising that it will clean the viruses or absolve you of
your crimes if you just send them a specified financial transaction in a  specified way. If you send money it will not help you but normally discovers  that it is worse than expected and ask for more money. It will likely also offer  fake offshore live tech support that will also take your money and not help further. To protect yourself from antivirus programs make sure that your know
your intentionally installed programs.  Others are fake.  Removing old versions of anti-virus software is simpler for some than others. Generally you will need administrator powers on your PC. Try rebooting with “F8” “Safe mode with networking” or running  RKill (blue download button not green) then update and run all your legitimate anti-virus, along with Malware-bytes and Spybot. If that gets you no joy (results) then an experienced tech can remove it manually or with advanced tools. Once the malware is removed you may need Unhide.  (TrustedCTO offers all these services to our clients).

Popular paid antivirus program are often confusingly simple.  There is really never anything simple about keeping viruses off your computer.  From infected computer users I hear statements like:  “I subscribe to McAfee 360 and it says everything is OK”  (yet they are badly infected).  Some popular paid antivirus programs are all about a simple interface.  I applaud that but simple is more helpful for marketing than stopping  viruses.  You need to be diligent to prevent or remove viruses simple because the virus authors are tricky and brutally deceptive people.  I recommend a team of 4 products.  All must be updated regularly and scans must be run automatically and manually.  Even updates are not enough.   At least 3 times a year check that you are installing the latest version of your products.  If you have updated the engine then the updates will be much more effective.

b. Do I still have an active anti-virus program?   Lets Check!  One of the 1st things I check during routine computer maintenance (RPM) are the anti-virus programs. Older versions are normally not effective even if you have done the updates. If it is a paid program then you must fiend the subscription renewal date.  This essential info is often hidden as they do not want you to have time to research better options.  For the free programs, generally look for a help menu, then About, then look for a version number. Compare that to the lates version posted on Filehippo.com.  For updates that is easier.  You open the program and verify that  the date it last updated the date and last scanned are today or last scheduled  interval. Sometimes it is difficult to identify if you have an anti-virus  program or how many you are running.  On a window PC check your Control Panel,  for installed programs. Look for the one you think is installed. While you are  at it look to see if you have others installed that you thought were replaced.  Remove the anti-virus that you do not want. Running incompatible programs can make  your computer slow and erratic so you may think you have a virus.  Old Anti-virus Software is sometimes difficult to remove. If your control panel  uninstaller is not effective. Here are links to more advance tools that can remove specific software:   Advanced uninstallers or Microsoft Program Install and Uninstall troubleshooter.

c. How come I may need a password or authorization to install a program? On the surface the  password question seams off topic, so here is the tie in. A virus are a type of  software that some how gets installed. Generally it installs itself or tricks you into installing it. Requiring administrative password authorization just  makes it harder for software to self install or trick you into installing it.  Mac’s get less malware than XP pc’s because they limit “root access” In the PC  world a best practice is to require an administrator password or permission to install most software.  The trade off for “limited users access” on a PC is that makes it more difficult to install necessary software updates.  Ask  your “administrator” about the security strategy for your computers.

d: I thought I have an anti-virus program so  how did I get these viruses?  We all feel your pain. You are busy and  want life to have quick simple answers but in technology there is no complete  protection from complexity. First, I do not know exactly where or how you got a virus I can only guess. It may not be totally your fault or under your control.  Like the old t-Shirt says: “Virus happens!” So please just let it go.  A Better  questions is: 

e. Are the paid protection programs better than the free programs?   Well that depends. In the anti-virus world the downside of paid programs are generally crippled once the anti-virus expires. Many clients have gotten viruses when when the did not realize that their paid AV program expires.  Certain paid versions of anti-virus programs try to give you a fair value and keep to that. Other paid programs seam to be overly aggrieve in their marketing  strategy. It seams that once you pay them for one some anti-virus become like sharks tasting blood in the water. Their marketing messages circle your computer and email relentlessly for their second taste of your money. They may scare you  into buying all sorts of additional protection services at over paid prices and of marginal value.

Does it  break your trust that a partner you hired for  for home computer protection keeps on up selling?   Most of the free  programs also continually try to up sell you with pop ups and nag screens.   However, I feel that is fair as they are a company and need to make a little money somewhere. One of the many reasons that we respect the company behind   Avira Free Antivirus (version 14+)is that the old version (13) does it’s best to keep working as long as it can. I do however recommend that you check your version now and each holiday season and  upgrade to the next version. In late 2013 version was 14 was released for free upgrade. I am guessing that in Nov 2014 that version 15 will be ready to manually download from   Avira Free Antivirus (version 14+)  to check your version of Avira:  Start Avira, Help, About Avira, Version  Information tab.

f. How many protection programs do I need? etc  we recommend 7 programs to our clients: Malwarebytes Anti-MalwareSpybot Search & Destroy  SuperAntiSpywareCCleaner and Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.  Avira’Anti-vir’s  installer complains when it sees Spybot or Malware-bytes. However we mostly ignore that warning. by it self any of the products are inadequate to protect your computer.  However, so this particular combo pack is particularly low cost and comparatively effective.  In addition to those protections we also remind you to work behind a secured  hardware router and keep windows firewall on (unless your particular business software conflicts with windows firewall).

g. What can you do to limit computer problems in the future?   The answer is Routine Preventative  Maintenance which we call RPM.  Follow the link above to keep your computer working or make your tech support costs lower.

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