Some Antivirus Products Are Hard to Like

There have been times when I have thought about running my computer without an antivirus program. There are a lot of antivirus programs out there that seem to be so controlling of your computer that they’re almost as bad as the stuff they supposedly protect you from. I’m talking about big warnings about slightly insidious cookies, constant renewal reminders, etc. It seems like some antivirus products are 20% virus protection and 80% advertising to make sure you renew your subscription. Perhaps Norton’s cleaned up it’s act recently–I have just stayed away from it and been happy. (Although others are at fault in this regard, I single out Norton because I’ve seen it the most since it seems to come preinstalled on just about everything. Norton antivirus even made an appearance on a computer Jason Bourne was using in the Bourne Ultimatum.)

Would I Be Safe Without an Antivirus Program?

But when all you do is download software from reputable sources, visit reputable websites, and have an email service that scans for viruses, would you really need an antivirus program? It turns out the answer is, “Yes.” ven reputable websites have been known to distribute malware from time to time. I’m pretty sure my dad’s laptop was infected this way not too long ago when Google’s DoubleClick and Microsoft’s MSN served up ads that attempted to install malware. It seems like poisoned ads that might be a bigger problem than just a few incidents.

In cases like that, users most at risk are those using older versions of browsers or browser plugins that have exploitable security holes. (Which was again likely the case with my dad’s laptop since he only pulls it out from time to time when he travels.) While a good protection against this attack vector is to make sure you allow the software on your computer to automatically update, it’s not always fail-safe.

One Thing I Don’t Like About Flash

Flash, for instance, is one application that seems to require regular updating, but only seems to check for updates when your computer first boots up (which might be rare for those who make regular use of the sleep and hibernate functions–I just rebooted my laptop for the first time in a while and was notified of an update for Flash). Flash’s issue seems to be worse when you realize that the updater only seems to update the plugin for a single browser. (I’ve gone to http://www.adobe.com/software/flash/about in each browser right after installing a Flash update on several different computers and noticed that one browser’s flash plugin was still out-of-date.) An outdated version of Flash player can make you an easy target for a drive by download. One reason I use Google’s Chrome browser is I like that Google distributes and automatically updates Flash with the browser.

What I’ve Decided

Since you can’t always trust reputable websites not to have been exploited, and you can’t always trust your computer to have the latest software updates, I think running an antivirus program is a wise decision. I really like Microsoft’s Security Essentials program. It’s free (for home and some small business users), seems pretty fast, and doesn’t announce itself unless it really needs attention. If you’re already using it, check to make sure you’re using the new 2.0 version that was recently released. My experience when it came out is that you had to manually download the 2.0 version to upgrade from the 1.0 version. (Although Microsoft was still providing virus definition updates for the 1.0 version so you would still be protected.)