Sorry that this blog is late but over the last week I have been fighting a nasty cold. Stuck in bed, miserable, not able to do what I wanted to do. So it got me thinking this morning about the same thing with our computers. I mean you catch a piece of malware on your system and your computer becomes bogged down, causes weird errors and keeps you from enjoying your computing experience.
Over the years I have been a huge advocate of using the free AV solutions in homes. Tied together with common sense approaches these can go a long way to protecting your PC. However last year saw a huge rise in extortion ware attacks and the use of commercial ads on legitimate websites to get them into your PC. These bypass a lot of the common sense approaches and play off the fear of the computer novice to allow help the virus attack work.
Over the last few months I have fought a lot of these attacks and talked about them in this blog quite a bit. We have discussed how to use the free AV software and counter the attacks but for some people that is just to much work, they want to just use their PC, having to learn tricks to defeat an attack on their computer is more than they want to deal with. So I set out and did some testing.
First I had to find sites that I KNEW was running ads with an extortion ware attack and I was able to reasonably recreate as needed. Next I loaded up some of the more popular free AV offerings as well as a few commercial to see which offered the best protection. Through my research I was able to find 10 sites I could accurately get a malware hit from.
First on the block is my current free AV recommendation, Microsoft Security Essentials. Having recently gone through an update of the base software this product has become even more effective than it was before. Sadly against this new threat it is not as effective as we would like. Of 10 sites MSE was only able to stop 2 of the attacks outright. What about Avast, a very popular free AV program it has an aggressive scan system. the failure rate was 100%, all the attacks took place as normal. Finally for the free we turn to AVG, the creator of the free AV craze and like Avast it fell quickly allowing all 10 attacks to take place.
What this is showing me is that while Free AV software can protect your PC pretty well the current lines of attack have found a way to bypass them at the moment. Will these programs find a way to be more effective in the future? I am sure they will but for now know that against extortion ware the free solutions are struggling with the delivery system.
Well if free is not working what about commercial software?
We begin with the biggest out their Norton. The Norton name is held in high regard throughout the computer consumer world, which is sad since it is held in low regard by most in the know. Norton did not fail to deliver on my low expectations allowing all 10 attacks to get into the system without a whimper. Next I fired up McAfee, another industry giant and again the mighty fell hard with 100% of the attacks coming through. I turned to Kaspersky one of the big commercial names with the “in” tech crowd to see how it would fair and it did better hitting 3 of the 10 attacks in the nose before they could try and trick their way in. However a 70% success rate for the malware is not what I call effective protection.
I was at a lose, I mean does this mean we have to wait for all the AV programs to catch up? Well in working to clean various systems I noticed that one AV package was almost always recommended. Now in fairness I had assumed this was from paid commercials on search sites so has dismissed it. However one day I was working to try and clean a clients system and was running out of options short of just wiping it and starting over. The problem we the client did not have the recover software and had a TON of data that would need to be retrieved. There was going to be a lot of cost associated with nuking the system so I figured what the heck and downloaded the software.
PC Tools has a pretty solid reputation but over the years it has been something of a minor player compared to the bigger names. In the above system we loaded the software, at first it did not seem to work so we made arrangements to get the system in a few days and nuke it. However during it’s overnight scans it found and cleared the PC.
So when the big three failed I figured it was worth giving this program a shot at our tests. I fired up the first website once the software was installed and updated, a little popup hit my lower left corner and it informed me that a website that was known to have issues was trying to be opened would I like it blocked. HHHMMM, okay since I was not access the site it listed I figured this was a good idea. Turns out the site it was blocking was the site the ad was coming from which was the way the malware attack was taking place. First test down and successful. Over the next 9 sites I saw this little popup a LOT. Spyware Doctor was grabbing the material before it could enter my system. Of the 10 sites, none of them where able to infect my PC, 100% success.
Now this is not to say this program will stop everything ever to come out but my test revealed it was a solid effort. The way it does this is by allowing your PC to send in data as it collects it. If a suspicious activity takes place on your PC the data is sent to PC Tools to confirm and if it is malware the site or program is blocked in the next update.
Over the last few days I have changed my computing habits with PC Tools installed and started using Facebook, the infestation incubator itself more. The result was at first a lot of warnings but no infections, since those first few days the warnings are down to once every few days on Facebook.
Now I am not turning from my old position. I still believe that for a lot of people a free AV solution with some common sense is enough protection. but lets face it common sense is NOT common and people want to go to sites others are going to, which means you will sooner or later visit sites that could be issues. If that is the case, or you have a Facebook junkie in your home then I would suggest taking at look at PC tools.
Do not get caught up in the fancier packages this is the one you want to look at. I also suggest if you are going to looks at this just buy it. The $40 cost covers 3 PCs for one year and with so many homes now having multiple PCs there is a good chance you can protect the whole family.
We all wish we could get through the winter without colds and flu and sometimes we get lucky and do. However we all know that no matter how much prevention we take there is always the chance of it slipping in. The same is true with your PC. No level of protection can for sure stop an infection but taking some precautions to ensure your not infect is just wise. PC Tools has made a great product that gives a little peace of mind, it may not stop all of it but you know it is trying hard.
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