Freeware Antivirus – Free as a software concept

I am an advocate for free software.  From trials (nice) to free lower level software (personal/student/home editions) with an upsell or encouragement for enterprise (levels of support, special features, etc…) for paid.  I was going to give my Dad a lesson on Free Antivirus and Free Spyware removal products…  why not share my lessons with the rest of the world…

In SharePoint we have WSS (Windows SharePoint Services) which in reality is NOT free.  It requires you have the Windows license.  On the desktop do I say that Windows Defender (Make sure you have this… it’s a no brainer!) is NOT free?  No, but it requires a copy of XP or Vista (Genuine Advantage validation) right?  Ok, so given that let’s pretend like Microsoft doesn’t care if we call it free (I know PR does care).  In this example we see it as the broad brush, it’s the one that anyone can have with their copy of Windows Server 2003/2008.  (Actually when it comes down to it, it’s likely someone like the Fed or the EU that keeps us playing these stupid is it a Windows service or Windows technology games.  So likely we can’t even blame Microsoft PR.  They can’t call it free, or it would be a problem with Windows Antitrust and bundling and all that junk.  Grrr.  It’s not a simple life.

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The upsell is Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Standard or Enterprise edition.  The upsell is features, services, and sure you can get other things like support and all that goodness.  I see these no brainer upgrades happen all the time.  The feature comparison and upsell happens as people become more fully aware.

So my dad has been running with no Antivirus or Antispyware, and I was freaking out.  Dad you have to have SOMETHING!  So here’s something for my dad.

The best freeware Antivirus is Avira AntiVir Personal (hear that, Personal Edition).  The license itself is pretty clear – "This free Avira AntiVir Personal – Free AntiVirus is intended exclusively for private use on a
single workstation. You may copy the complete program package and pass it on to others for private use only.  The free Avira AntiVir Personal – Free AntiVirus may not be used for commercial or professional purposes."

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About.com does a suprisingly decent review on three of the best "Free" Antivirus products. (Not free trials, but actual freeware that doesn’t expire!)  (Note these are not for commercial use, not a problem for you, Dad.) 

AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic, AVAST 4 Home Edition, and AVG Free Edition.

From About.com, "Each of the products tested has been certified (VB100%, ICSALabs, or Checkmark) to be effective at detecting 100% of in-the-wild viruses. But the list of in-the-wild (ItW) viruses is miniscule in comparison to the number of actual known viruses. The ItW list also omits certain types of threats, including adware and spyware, thus it may not be representative of the actual threats confronting users today."

Just navigating the Internet to find the legitimate download locations of these products prior to finding the correct links was extremely painful.  There is TONS of junk download pages on antivirus which WILL give you malware and spyware and throw some useless trial of a Noname antivirus product that will force nag you to upgrade and WILL expire in 15 days.  These 3 at least are decent products with a decent plan for upsell.  What a mess the Internet has become with pages with ads and fake links that are spider traps and junk thrown at the Googles of the world to increase relevancy and trying to seem legitimate.  I was looking for a codec and an hour later after wading through the slums of the Internet found a decent alternative.  It’s sad.

Notice that you’ll see things like this…  Ad driven products, donations, and greyed out features are common place.  (You won’t find that in WSS, you’ll find a fully featured product and you don’t know what you don’t know.)  It takes MS Sales or some knowledge of SharePoint Server to really know what you’re missing out on.

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For Spyware I like two programs and I actually recommend both.  Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware 2008 and Spybot Search and Destroy (ad driven) "the best (according to PC World, PCMag.com, …) privacy software available" and run off donations. (cool!)

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These products will help you identify spyware and other unwanted junk on your desktops.  If you have spouses that download and play games you’ll find random toolbars and desktop icons (and that’s MILD) amongst other unwanted and horrible spyware on your machines.  These products will help you at least identify and remove 90% of it.  Being free the best features such as more of the realtime service features or custom scheduling or some of those other "greyed out" features are in the fully featured products.  Often it’s just a little bit more.  Whether it’s $15 or $100 Antivirus and Antispyware removal is a necessity.  You’re under constant attack by simply opening your browser and having an IP.  If you do neither of these and talk to no other machine that has either of these, then we don’t have to talk.

Let me warn you about something else I’ve seen lately… horrible things on the internet not safe for your Grandmothers.

Tell me what’s wrong with this screenshot!

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See the tiny text Ad Feedback?  Right under it you see an orange box around a yellow button saying click here to start your download?  If you click on this button you are actually clicking on an AD!  You have to continue to go down the page to click on Download Now.  You can imagine with poor resolution (like your Grandma’s) you wouldn’t even see the Download Now link.  If you do click it, you’ll see one more similar AD and hopefully you didn’t click on that one, and then in the background the download should start.  Right?  What happens if it doesn’t?  Well that’s pretty common these days with IE security.  We may get the bar at the top saying something needs to run, but that might not come down either.  So what does Download.com tell you to do?  They tell you to put them in your trusted sites… GREAT.  NOT.  Now a large bulk of the software on the Internet is now in your trusted sites.  Not something you should have to do.  I’ve been *REALLY* annoyed by these types of issues.  People trying to be smart about auto loading the software so I have to run some control, and ADs that trick you into doing stupid things.  Facebook is littered with poorly placed ads with arrows with the words next.  Hate that.  It’s going to get worse in the future.  This isn’t the best example screenshot, but you get the idea…  Nagging annoying ADs that look like legitimate links, buttons, and applications are the bain of our existence and at the same time… our inevitable future.

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Action Items:

Ok Dad,  here’s what you do.  1) Make sure you’ve run the latest Microsoft Update and have the latest Windows and Office Service Packs (those will be discovered in the scan, and make sure it’s set to automatic download, but not automatic install). 2) Make sure you’ve got the latest Windows Defender, then at least pick one of each… 3) Antivirus: (AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic, AVAST 4 Home Edition, and AVG Free Edition)  and 4) Antispyware (Spybot S&D or Lavasoft Ad-aware).  Then make sure you 5) run full scans using these two products on a recurring basis.  Depending on the product it may do some automatic scanning or only run on demand.  Note if it doesn’t have a tray icon…  Even if it does you should run the full scan after a clean reboot once a week.  Since it’s free you may have to force it to run.  If you install software, especially ones that you aren’t 100% aware of, you should run the products to do some verification.  Free isn’t the full answer, but it does get you by in this economic uncertainty.  If you’re willing to shell out some cash you’ll find it will run as a service and run in the background and run in the night and all that jazz.  The upsell will come with some built in designs that are convincing, or maybe the donation… 

I did fail to mention Microsoft Live One Care… ever heard of it?  It’s got a 90 day trial and is Microsoft’s solution to Antivirus and Antispyware as well as a bunch of other desktop security.  I haven’t seen it used in the enterprise space, so I don’t have a lot to say about it.  Pretty cheap too… "Get always-on protection and maintenance for up to 3 PCs for just $49.95 (USD) * a year."  I have friends that swear to this (new solution) and others to Symantec Norton, Mcafee and Trend (the long time proven products).  It’s nice to see Microsoft doing strong things in the security space.  They do need to do more to lead.  They’ve really taken a strong position in fighting antivirus and spyware.  Note: (OneCare does not support the Windows XP Professional 64-bit operating system)  In the enterprise space it’s ForeFront Client Security which has real management and reporting.  For SharePoint the dominant antivirus vendor is Microsoft ForeFront for SharePoint (with SP2).  That team has done an incredible job to meet the performance requirements and react quickly.  Their competition has been late and lacking, but that’s for another post.

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Joel Oleson

I LOVE traveling our little planet. In my quest to visit every country in the world I've got about 35 UN countries left! I'm not just country hopping, but looking for the most immersive cultural experiences and capturing them as photos and videos. Yes, I'm also a geek. I've been recognized as a Microsoft Regional Director, a community leadership award. When not traveling, I'm in paradise in sunny southern California as I'm a Senior IT Manager at Blizzard Entertainment.

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