Anti-virus softwares have been around for a long time now and after we have installed them in our machine, a Windows-based machine since OS X and Linux are practically immune to computer viruses, we almost forget about them.
We are either lazy in scanning every portable storage device we plug in to our machine or a downloaded file from the web, or we are not that familiar on how to use the AV that’s installed in our system.
Chances are that AV is one of the most popular commercial brands from the big security firms like Symantec, Trend-Micro, McAfee just to name a few. Since it’s from one one these brands, it is of course not for free. Not for free means coughing up something in the region of $30-$100 USD for a license that will allow you to use its full features until a new version is released usually in a year’s time. That amount maybe a bit heavy to some but it still is a good investment since these AVs do get the job done of protecting your PC from viruses, trojans, malware, worms and other digital nasties – most of the time.
It works most of the time if that AV is regularly updated via the web, and this is usually done automatically. Apart from the standard update of its virus database, patches and other updates to the core of the AV is issued every once in a while.
Occasionally, these patches and virus database updates become the source of computer mayhem instead of preventing and fixing them in case ‘badware’, worms and viruses do infect your machine. A particular case in point is the recent problem caused by a recent update to Symantec’s Norton AV has caused the famous AV utility to accidentally “attack” computers it’s supposed to protect.
“Over 1000 customers had reported being affected by the incident in Guangzhou as of Friday noon. The common symptom is that the computer may suddenly encounter a blue screen and then be prompted with an error message. The same problem remains even after a reboot of the system.
A spokesman for Symantec, producer of the Norton AntiVirus software, has confirmed that this incident resulted from inappropriate handling of upgrading AntiVirus software. He promised that the company was now working hard on a possible solution.
The latest virus Norton database was upgraded on May 17. According to some PC experts, this software, after the upgrade, would regard two essential system files (netapi32.dll、lsasrv.dll) as viruses by mistake and clear them away from computers installed with Windows XP. That causes the computer to be locked up even after a reboot. Experts also confirmed that those using the simplified Chinese version of Windows XP and Norton AntiVirus will also be affected.”
Talk about digital cannibalism. This among others has been one of the reasons why alternative and free anti-virus softwares have become popular and has entered mainstream usage. I remember that my very first AV utility was Trend-Micro’s PC-Cillin back in 2000. Today it’s now re-branded as Internet Security and retails at $49.95 for a 1-year license. I loved using PC-Cillin back then, it stopped every known bug that has managed to make its way into my machine all because I religiously updated its database. I even made recommendations of it to my friends who turn to me for computer help, advice and other geeky stuff.
The relationship turned sour when I noticed that the free space on my hard drive was shrinking without me installing new programs or creating new files. Doing an observation for almost a month, I noticed that everytime PC-Cillin downloaded and updated its database the free space would decrease again. To confirm my suspicions, I checked out the system folder of PC-Cillin and I was surprised that all the previous update files from day 1 up to that time were still there! Almost a year’s worth of database update that took place almost 5x a week were all in my hard drive. Sure the update files themselves are no more than 1MB in size but when they pile up it’s like installing M$ Office twice.
Another factor was that it uses too much system resources for my preference and would often get in the way of installing new softwares and games, I know it’s protecting my machine but it’s now protecting it from me as well. It’s was getting annoying back then.
To make things worse, my 1 year license has just expired and thus my access to free automatic updates ended as well. I wanted to upgrade to the newer version which was PC-Cillin 2002 back then but the $50 USD price tag just stopped me in my tracks. Sure I could get a hacked or “pirated” version of it for less than a dollar from the local software pirates here in the Philippines or completely free from the internet, but since I’m too much of security freak I wouldn’t trust my computer’s well-being to a pirated or hacked version of an AV.
So after reading an article in PC Magazine back in 2000 about how free alternative anti-virus softwares were getting better at protecting PCs and receiving recognition for it, I decided to brave the waters of free Anti-virus softwares. It was venture I never turned back from and I’m loving it up to this present times.
My first try was Avast! Home edition, it was fast, lightweight and simply worked. Stuck with it for almost a year until I switched to a more powerful and still free AV, AVG anti-virus by Grisoft and I’m using it as of now.
Friends and schoolmates would often raise their eyebrows and even laugh at me whenever they hear that I’m using a free anti-virus while they’re still on the commercial ones. Of course every now and then they would ask me for help about their AVs, that it wasn’t detecting viruses from their USB drives or can’t “heal” infected files etc. and soon after, they eventually switched to AVG Free as well. Let’s hear who’s laughing now?