Friday, December 4, 2009

My Antivirus Journey

I have a short version and a more detailed version, for those that want more information about a particular product look just after this first part.  

 But first the Short Version:

 Norton Antivirus: Works but is Big and Resource intensive Bloat ware.

McAfee: Works, less resource intensive than Norton Antivirus, but they made downgrading almost impossible so I decided to move on.

CA: Computer Associates was the next attempt but this was system resource intensive.  They were also a bit more expensive than other options.

Zone Alarm: This one was so User Intensive  with pop-up's letting me know some  program  started, was wanting start or access the network or save a file I had to remove it quickly.

AVG: I tried the free version and liked it so much I got the paid version. Things were going well until I noticed my network speed was slowed by about 70%.  Long story short AVG was checking every packet entering and leaving my computer.  This was one of the features on the paid version so I went back to the free version for a while.

Avast:   Good Free product.  I used it until MSSE.

Microsoft Security Essentials:  Great Product, low system resource load, almost no user work load.  It has already caught a virus (mp3) on a friends thumb drive. This is what I use on all 4 windows machines in my house today. (and my mothers)


The details:

I have been using antivirus programs since about 1998.  At this time these were DOS based programs and worked in the background, or Terminate and Stay Resident (TSR) as they were known in the single tasking DOS OS. I was a big fan of Norton Utilities since version 1.0 through 3.5. Somewhere in this time frame Symantec bought Norton Utilities and produced an AntiVirus program under the trusted Norton Utilities name. This is when I decided to give it a try, as Viruses were starting to be a real problem. I purchased and used Norton Antivirus (NAV) as they called it for many years. I continuously used these utilities to keep my system operating as speedy and efficiently as possible, but I kept noticing my system slowing down. Norton Utilities & NAV continued to grow in size and complexity. I longed for the small simple utilities I had learned to love, but it was not to be. In 2001 I upgraded to Windows XP when it came out. It started out ince and speedy, from what I was use to but by the time I installed all my software it was running just a slow again. I was not happy. One weekend I was determined to find out why my system was running so slow. I started to remove all the TSR programs. I still called them that even though by then Windows XP was somewhat of a multitasking OS. NAV was the last one of those to be uninstalled, but on reboot the task manager reported NAV still running. In other words NAV failed to uninstall. This is when I lost confidence in the Symantec line of software. They couldn't even uninstall it properly, so why should I believe they were doing a good job of writing it in the first place. I never purchased another copy of Symantec, Norton AntiVirus.

By now it was around 2002 and I was familiar with McAfee Anti Virus and decided to give them a try. I tried the free version first, liked the lower resource load on the computer. It was running much better. I upgraded to the paid version and was happy with McAfee for a year or so. I couldn't see any difference between the free version and the paid except the AV engine always seemed to be on or two versions behind the paid version. It came time to renew, I tried to go back to the free version they were offering but they put up so many road blocks I decided to move on.

Computer Associates offered a free version, I tried it for a while, but they too made it very difficult to stay with that version. A lot of nag screens did it for me.

Zone Alarm was my next product. I started with the free version and stayed with them for about a couple of years. At first I liked the popup asking if a program could access the internet, and it remembered the setting. The pop-ups keep coming, most of the time with insufficient information to know who was asking and for why. I realized that this was not security if I was blindly clicking ok every time I wanted to go to the internet. There had to be something better.

AVG had a long history of good quality Antivirus programs so I decided to try this next. When I installed the free version of this program, it worked so well that I was concerned if it was doing anything at all. Then comes a day when it flags a download as potential virus, quarantines it and I deleted it. By now it was 2007 and Verizon FIOS comes to the neighborhood so of course I sign up and get great Fiber speeds, 15meg down, 5 meg up, to the house. The speeds were as advertised and life was good. In 2008 I volunteered to rip some audio CD's, Class lectures, for my church and upload them to a their website. I couldn't get more that 200k/sec up. ???? I called the website and they had no problem on their end. I called Verizon and complained they sent me to their speed test at . That reported the correct speeds. Not that I didn't trust them I went to tried again and got the specified 5 meg up speed so the problem couldn't be on my end, or could it? I decided to try another machine, one I was working on and had just done a clean install. The upload went at the proper 5 meg up…. How could that be? Could this be Anti Virus? None was installed on the machine I had just used. I started by disabling AVG on my primary machine and the speed bottle neck went away. I looked into it a bit deeper and found the problem was in a "feature" that only came with the paid version, so I immediately downgraded to the free version and the problem went away. But this bothered me to the point that I started looking for another Anti Virus program.

Avast was highly rated and free, so I installed it. I had no speed problems. The processor overhead was small, the network overhead or slow down was not noticeable so this worked well for me. That was about a year ago. Starting a year after that install I started getting nag screens to upgrade to the paid version. This got old real fast. The good news is Microsoft had just released an Anti Virus add on.

Microsoft Security Essentials. (MSSE) I installed this on my system and was impressed with the ultra low resource load on the system and so far NO user required intervention. But the old question of was it really working started to nag me. Then came proof. The 13 year old son of a friend of mine managed to render his laptop unbootable. So being the tech geek I was asked to see if I could "fix it". I was able to get all the data, and music copied to an external drive, and I reinstalled the "Vista" OS, MSSE and all his software. When I copied all the data and music back to the newly rebuilt system I noticed the copy going rather slowly. Then I found out why, MSSE was checking each file as it was being copied back to the new system. Up popped a warning advising that one of the music files had a virus and the file could not be repaired. I deleted the file. To this day the laptop is working fine and MSSE is doing its job. I am sold on this simple invisible little gem. I recommend it to all.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Must Have Password Utility

With all the multitude of website I go to, and each has different password requirements, or the user name I want is not available I need help.

Solution Roboform I have been using this jewel for over 5 years now, and I can't live without it.

You can download a free version that limits the number of Logins (5 I think) so you can try it out to see if this works for you. There is No Adware, No Spyware even with the free version. Do pay attention during the install process, it does offer to install the Yahoo toolbar, I just uncheck this and move on. The Paid version is $29 and for me well worth it.

The first thing I think of with password programs is Security. Roboform gives you a choice of 5 security algorithms to choose from ranging from 64 to 256 bit key length, to secure each login or Identity (more on that later). If you are concerned about "key logger" programs don't be. This defeats them by directly filling in the user name and password with out sending them through the keyboard buffer. Roboform even has a "Dual Password" option for "Employee/Supervisor" protection, but I'm thinking it is also good for "Child/Parent" access.

Roboform Fights Phishing too. When Roboform securely stores you username and password, it also stores the URL for that website, so when you go to a Phishing site, Roboform will not offer to fill in that website, because it does not match any website it has stored. Nice!

You can also have multiple "Identity's" these are files that keep all personal information you would want to auto fill online forms with, like Name, User name, address, credit cards, bank accounts. Remember this is all encrypted on your computer. I use a couple of identities, one for registrations for purchases on line, another for personal websites / friends. If I were working I would also have one for company related info. Each time I go to a register at a new website that wants all this information, then Roboform will fill it out for me. Now whenever I return to any website Roboform will recognize the website and offer to autofill my username and password that I originally entered. If you have to change your password, you can simply put in a new password or have Roboform generate one of any length and complexity. Roboform not only remembers the new one, it also keeps track of the changes.

Roboform also has another form you can use called "SafeNote" These are secure notes you would keep for sensitive information not associated with a web site or your identity. Like Off Line, Software keys, Passwords , notes and extended Family ID info, or any other sensitive information that you might want to keep secure.

You can also take Roboform with you on a USB disk for ultimate portability.

This installs in your browser as a toolbar. I use both firefox and ie at different times and it installs on both on the same computer with no problems. I have not tried Netscape, but it is also supported. It also works in the new Google Chromium. That is not a miss spelling. Google Chrome as of this writing does not allow plugin's, but they have released a beta version they call Chromium which Roboform has modified to work together. There are some quirks and for some reason a couple of websites that the toolbar goes away, but this is beta and they expect to have it corrected with the next release. There is a work around for those sites chromium removes the Roboform toolbar. I got to the task bar, open roboform and edit the logins. This will reveal the username and password so I can at least get into the site.

The later versions of Roboform come with their companion product, also free, GoodSync. This allows you to backup all of your Roboform data. I have also purchased this product and use it to back up all my Documents, Quicken data, Turbo Tax data, Outlook files, etc. I will discuss this product at another time.

There are more options like key board short cuts, Search engines you can use, but you get the idea. This product is rock solid and secure. I install this on every machine I build/rebuild for my family or evaluation. I recommend it to all that need to remember that strange user name or password you used for one of the hundreds of sites you use. It is well worth the price.