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Friday, February 1, 2008
Avast there!

Now that we have secured the gateway to our computer (see Vol 20.10 November 2007 page 9) there should be a lot less for any antivirus program to do. Essentially what you want is to avoid an anti virus program from becoming too much of a nuisance itself. For what’s the point of preventing your computer from attack when the tools you are employing cause more trouble?

In part 3 (see Insurance Times & Investments Vol 20.8 September 2007 page 12) we discussed Mailwasher, which allows you to preview emails and chuck out those of nuisance value or that are plain dangerous. Then in part 4 we looked at firewalls, which can monitor and block out unwanted traffic. But in all fairness there are still holes through which malicious software can penetrate and cause untold damage.
So an anti-virus programme should be your next, and hopefully, your last line of defence.
In previous reports we explained why we ditched Symantec’s Norton Anti virus after many loyal years of use. It got just too wieldy, too expensive and too invasive to be of much value.
However, you can still use Norton Security check as a sort of spy on your own anti-virus program to make sure it is maintaining integrity of the system. At the time of going to press the web address was: http://security.symantec.com/sscv6/default.asp?productid=symhome&langid=ie&venid=sym
Note that the Norton check is an online service, and that you will need to log on using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – that’s just so irritating if you prefer, say, Mozilla Firefox or Opera. But you only have to load IE temporarily.
The Norton System Check is a really useful free backup service, and includes:
• Security Scan: Is your computer safe from online threats?
• Hacker exposure threats
• Windows vulnerability check
• Trojan horse check
• Virus Detection: Is your computer free of viruses?

Don’t be alarmed, by the way, by any negative sounding messages; a lot of the information is merely informative and largely marketing. The service is free and you have to forgive Symantec for trying to get you to buy into their yellow-and-black solution. If you don’t find the service because someone has moved the address then just google ‘Norton Security Check’.

Antivirus tests

Tired of Norton we tried out three free antivirus programs. They were installed on different machines on the network and then they were setup to check on each other from time to time.
By the way it can sometimes be quite a mission to uninstall Norton. On some of the PCs it simply refused to GO AWAY!!! For one computer we ended up getting a special uninstall facility that was available from Symantec’s site. It kind of cleans up everything — ‘kind of’ because sometimes you can still have bits left behind. So then you can use some registry scanning program (we recommend cCleaner, which we will describe briefly in a future article) to rid the PC of widows and orphan shortcuts, dead-end bits of software, broken dlls and so on.
During the last few months, incidentally, we also replaced Norton Utilities – a component of some of Symantec’s packages that helps you with housekeeping. We found and now use a small clutch of free alternatives to do the same job just as well (again they’ll be described in future articles).
The three free antivirus programs we tested were:
• Antivir Guard;
• Avast! Antivirus; and
• AVG Antivirus from Grisoft.

They all worked fairly effectively, bearing in mind we continued to use Mailwahser to pre-delete naughty emails; while, of course, ZoneAlarm firewall was also in operation.
AVG generated lots of activity. We never really worked out what it was doing. Turning on the computer, you may as well go and have supper or watch the news while you were waiting for the start up ritual to be completed. It didn’t catch the other anti-virus software out. Antivir was OK, but seemed to slow some of the resources down, and the interface was nothing special.
It is important – and admittedly very difficult -  to make anti-virus programs as intuitive and as unobtrusive as possible otherwise their use (especially as far as Norton was concerned) is somewhat self-defeating.
When you think about it, the pirates try and make their virus and spy attacks as subtle as possible; the antivirus developers should do the same. Yet one senses that the high level of computer activity, the pop-ups and frequent update messages are more to do with marketing, and getting publicity for the product than getting on with the job. It is as if they think you won’t buy something unless you actually see it working!
Which all goes to explain why we settled for Avast! in the end. It is now on seven machines and over the last five months all I can say is that we had had no problems with viruses, nor was there any sense that Avast! was impeding any processing activity. It’s still free at www.avast,com By Nigel Benetton

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:21.1 1st February, 2008
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