Computer Repair stores partnered with companies like AVG, Kaspersky, and Symantec generate profits from the sale of Anti-Virus software, and may not have your best interests in mind.
Computer malware – which includes viruses, trojans, spyware, and more – is a problem. Symantec, maker of Norton Anti-Virus and Symantec End Point protection for businesses, published 17 million malware definitions as of August, 2012.
That list is growing with additional definitions every day, and not just for Windows, malware for Apple’s OSX operating system and Google’s popular Android mobile system are on the rise. Anti-Virus software made by Kaspersky, AVG, Avira, and yes – Symantec – claims to guard against this threat. Computer repair companies across America who are part of Kaspersky’s “Green Team” or Authorized AVG resellers would like to sell you expensive AV software to help keep these 17 million and growing malware pieces at bay.
Equipping yourself with a strong Anti-Virus program to protect against the ever-growing malware threat is a great idea, but should you pay for one? On the surface the decision to purchase Anti-Virus software seems like a great one – AV software is less expensive than having a virus removed, it claims to keep your identity and personal information safe, and to make your computer run smoother (it won’t). What are these features worth though? And will they work well enough to justify spending money on AV software that requires yearly subscription renewals and bugs the user to purchase additional add-on packs?
We at Chip & Bytes don’t think so. Why? Anti-virus software is not perfect, and will not always keep you protected. Anti-virus or AV is a great tool for protecting yourself when venturing onto the web, but is not a replacement for common sense and good practices.
AV software works off the concept of definitions. Definitions are very similar to virus finger prints in a criminal database. When a file gets downloaded to your system its fingerprint is compared to all of the fingerprints in the definition database. This sounds great – but this system only deals with known offenders. Anti-virus software will not detect a file with a new, unknown set of fingerprints until the definitions are updated by the software provider, and by that time you will be infected.
In the computer world brand new pieces of malware, or operating system exploits, that are newer than any protective definitions are known as “zero day” problems. Zero day means the problem is not yet acknowledged or logged, that happens on “day 1″ when the problem is officially recognized and recorded. Anti-virus software is not effective at defending zero day problems because there is no way for a software company to proactively guess upcoming operating system issues – this would be akin to solving a math problem before it exists or developing a vaccine before a disease is recognized.
Anti-virus software attempts to defend against unknown problems with software components that analyze the behavior of potential offenders, in a method similar to real life profiling, instead of just relying on finger prints. This is why you may sometimes receive an operating system warning, or warning from your anti-virus software, over a harmless file. This approach is helpful and is sometimes able to identify new viruses and treat them, but does not always work. Just as the police will not always suspect a seemingly harmless offender, anti-virus will not always pick up a brand new malware. Malware is typically written to harvest information for financial gain, and there is no money in creating a new one that is easily detected (more on this in another blog).
We feel anti-virus software is a great precaution but not worth paying for because it does little to guard against unknown problems. Once threats are documented, protection is largely integrated into Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX, Android, and others through the system update process. AV Comparatives, a website focused on real world testing of AV software, publishes a great monthly chart based on their findings. The most recent chart reports that over 90% of malware is blocked by Windows 7′s built-in protection. This leaves 3rd party software to tackle the rest and, as the chart shows, big names and small, paid or free, almost all of them offer similar performance.
Why do computer repair companies “recommend” AV software if anti-virus is ineffective at predicting new threats, Microsoft’s update process blocks most attacks, and free and paid software offer similar results? Computer repair companies are the sales force of the AV software companies. Repair companies affiliated with a specific AV provider make a cut off of every copy they sell, and every subscription you renew – whether you need it or not.
We know from years of experience that anti-virus software is largely nullified once a virus has taken hold, and is not neccessary for the removal process – which must be performed using a combination of a different set of tools and manual investigation by a technician. We think you should question any virus removal service that comes packaged with AV software. Paid AV software is not necessary to remove a virus and is most likely a waste of your money given its inability to predict future, “zero day” threats and similar effectiveness when compared to free software.
At Chip & Bytes we are not partnered with an AV company. We remove viruses, and we remove them for a flat fee following a free diagnostic. We do not sell anti-virus software and we do not do our customers the disservice of telling them a particular brand of anti-virus software will keep them 100% protected. For customers who would like a free recommendation on anti-virus software – we use Microsoft Security Essentials. Security Essentials is free, does not require a subscription, and is among the least intrusive virus scanners. Security Essentials updates through the Windows Update process.
Security Essentials is available for download at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 users. The software is built into Windows 8 and works automatically – leaving even less room for costly, ineffective aftermarket scanners in Microsoft’s newest operating system.