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The scam of anti-virus software

by Jocelyn Beaudet November 11, 2014
The scam of anti-virus software

Contrary to popular belief, $60 a year won’t keep you away from harm

For the past few months, I’ve been urging readers of this humble column to browse safely and change their passwords, and I gave them a solution on blocking ads, malware and other less-than-awesome content from their personal computer(s). But this week, I’m going to take things a step further and let you faithful fans in on a tiny industry secret: anti-viruses are generally fairly useless.

Sure, they’ll detect some absolutely atrocious piece of software that you’re about to install, if you’ve decided to run off and download a random executable file from some barely-reputable website. But most of the time? They’ll hog your computer’s resources, drain your wallet, and remain all-around ineffectual. There’s a reason for this and, honestly, it makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

Nefarious individuals who are in the business of producing viruses know that these countermeasures exist, and that the “best” and “most popular” ones are happy to flaunt their would-be infallibility. In reality, these anti-viruses generally function on a local basis: you can run them when you’re not connected to the internet, and the installed piece of anti-virus software does all the work from the computer, and on your computer.

Unlike a real-world scenario, where doctors would wear protection during an outbreak, and everyone would be all-around safe, anti-virus software is usually more of a hindrance than it is a preventative power for these terrible little viruses. Infecting the thing that’s designed to cure you makes sense, from the virus producer’s perspective, and it happens more often than you’d think.

How easy is it to pirate anti-virus software? If pirates can get their hands on anti-viruses just as easily, and remove the paywall that prevents users from stealing the software with surprising ease, imagine how much easier it is to figure out how to have this anti-virus simply ignore the threat you’re making once you know exactly how it works?

The problem with the modern-day anti-virus is simple: all of the files and information used to do its work are stored in the exact same place where the infection spreads from in the first place. Workarounds exist, and most of them offer their services for free, or at a pittance of the cost of a subscription to Norton or McAfee. An old favourite of mine is Housecall (housecall.trendmicro.com). Housecall uses a Java applet (which is compatible with every operating system) to remotely connect to your computer and go over your files’ integrity. If it finds anything that it can’t contain on its own, the little applet will direct you to a page giving you step-by-step instructions on how to remove all the malicious worms, Trojans and keyloggers that may have inadvertently eaten away at your computer’s core.

Is it foolproof? No. But it’s certainly a better alternative than shelling out almost $100 on software. The only immediate drawback is the lack of real-time protection that many anti-viruses boast. On the other hand, this real-time protection is an enormous resource hog, and generally only gets updated every few weeks or months, while Housecall is always as up to date as it can be.

As usual, it’s always a good idea to browse safely and to be smart about where you get your files from. If things seem dubious, or too good to be true, it’s probably because they are.

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