Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Antivirus Protection

Software | Hoaxes | Fixing Issues | Evaluating Solutions | Current Alerts

Changing Requirements

At one time an antivirus program was sufficient to protect your computer from the annoying (and often destructive) "bugs" that attacked your computer.

Today, viruses are blended with multi-faceted and simultaneous threats, making them much more dangerous and resulting in serious implications for your personal privacy as well as for your finances if you aren't fully protected.

You Need a Security Suite

Your computer must be protected by a current security suite that includes antivirus, anti-spyware, keylogger / screengrabber protection plus an effective advanced two-way firewall.

  • Without a suit of products that work together, you cannot have complete security from infections and attacks on your computer. The 11 most common computer security threats each indicate a danger level and prevalence ranking that helps you to evaluate the risk, but you need to protect yourself from all of them simultaneously.
  • Infections can make your computer unworkable and it is often difficult (or impossible) to repair the damage caused. You need to ensure you have a current backup
  • Malware can go unnoticed yet risks your privacy and uses resources you've paid for to benefit someone else. Botnets are big business.

Ensure your protection is always current. You have no excuse for not running security software. Many vendors offer free versions of their security software for personal use (although they may not perform as well as you expect).

What About the Mac?

The Mac has a reputation for being safe without an antivirus, but perhaps it is time to change that opinion. Choose an effective program that doesn't significantly slow down the system. Malware protection is particularly weak and we now have proof that Macs can get ransomware. More about Mac security…

Using Windows XP Risky

Windows XP is at significantly higher risk for infection than a Windows 7 computer, exasperated by the continued use of the obsolete Outlook Express and older versions of Internet Explorer.

…XP PCs should not be used to constantly surf the Web or serve as an e-mail platform. Most of the malware finds its way into a Windows system via these pathways.

Here's another unanimous recommendation by the security vendors surveyed: Whenever there is an opportunity, the user ought to switch over to more recent Windows versions such as 7 or 8. — AV-TEST

In an October 2014 report, ComputerWorldUK noted:

Fifty-two percent of the [half-million] compromised computers were running Windows XP, a figure that is at once unsurprising -- considering that support for Windows XP, including patches, ended in April 2014, according to the report.

Most of those computers were running Internet Explorer, which is to be expected given both the size of the Internet Explorer install base and the number and variety of exploits available for this browser, the report said.

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Antivirus & Security Software

While you can purchase anti-virus & security packages in retail stores, these sites offer software at reduced rates, 24-hour access, instant updates, and on-line technical support.

Save Backups of Installation Software & Licenses

If you do purchase your software on-line, be sure to save a copy of the installation file(s) — preferably on removable media — so you can reinstall it if you need to repair it or suffer a catastrophic loss of your operating system.

Not All Products As Effective tests -- click to see live results. tests (see graphic) show significant variations in preventing infections:

  • green were automatically blocked;
  • yellow were user dependent; and
  • red were compromised.

The line near the top shows protection provided by Windows 7 “out of the box” (not good enough).

Recommended Security Solutions

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security

I strongly recommend ZoneAlarm Extreme Security for complete security protection (Internet Security Suite is not as effective in fighting todays blended threats).

Rated #1 by ::: Save up to 50% on ZoneAlarm today!

Recommended Alternatives

  • Kaspersky Antivirus is very highly rated, but I prefer the version licensed with ZoneAlarm for more complete protection.
  • Panda Cloud Antivirus paid Pro version includes a community firewall, protection on pubic WiFi networks and VIP support.

Mac and Linux

The Mac and Linux have traditionally been safer than Windows for security, but this is no longer true.

Free Antivirus Solutions

I strongly recommend sticking with a paid subscription because it will offer more frequent updates, better security and your requests for help will always get priority over similar free products.

But if you can't afford it, there are basic (and sometimes excellent) free protection for home users.

ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall

ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall is my recommended free solution. It provides both an antivirus and two-way firewall in a single package.

Do not install ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall with any other antivirus or security products as they can conflict, leaving you vulnerable.

Recommended Alternatives

These solutions are recommended ONLY if combined with the ZoneAlarm Free Firewall (basic firewall only):

  • ClamWin Free Antivirus comes with an easy installer and open source code. However, there is no real-time scanner (you need to manually scan files for viruses) and no firewall.
  • AVG Free Personal Edition provides excellent basic protection for home users with light requirements (not suitable for online banking or shopping).
  • Panda Cloud Antivirus has a very minimal footprint (free for home users and non-profit organizations) but is missing most of the features of the paid product, including .

NOT Recommended

I don't recommend the following products.

Microsoft Security Essentials (a beefed-up Windows Defender) is free for individuals and small businesses with up to 10 PCs.

Zero-day detection was mediocre, but the popular free antivirus program performed well at spotting malware…the product performs worse when compared with other free or paid offerings. —

Windows 8.1 comes with an enhanced version of Windows Defender, but the outgoing firewall is turned off by default. Turning it on can overwhelm the casual user with constant alerts.

  • Windows Defender is included with Windows Vista and later but is an anti-spyware/anti-malware product, and does not include antivirus protection.

Other Antivirus Solutions

These may be excellent anti-virus solutions, but I have not tested them recently. Most require a great deal of your system resources (mainly RAM) to run and many disable ZoneAlarm, my recommended firewall. More about evaluating solutions.

Free Products

ISP-Provided Packages

Many ISPs (particularly those offering broadband services) now include anti-virus protection either included as a part of their regular services or for a fee. Some ISPs activate it automatically, but most require some action on your part. This can be an excellent first line of defense, backed up by an installed anti-virus program (since not all viruses are spread by email).

However, many of the packages provided by ISPs to install on your computer (such as Shaw Secure) are very intensive users of system resources and are not necessarily the best products available. Try my recommended solutions instead, particularly if you're a home user where some excellent free options are available to you.

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Beware of Fake Spyware-removers

Watch out for “ads” on websites that appear to "find" spyware on your system. They install a fake program, then offer to remove it if you purchase their product. Don't fall for these tactics. They are rip-offs or fakes.

The best defense is to keep your protection current and to know how your security software displays warnings.

  • Do NOT click links on websites running a simulated (but realistic-looking) “infection reports” on your computer. These can also appear on your desktop in a Windows dialogue box.
  • Internet Explorer much more vulnerable in allowing malware to install unasked. Don't use IE for browsing the Web.

You many also receive calls from telemarketers selling security software. The CRTC has some advice on dealing with these calls. I recommend that you simply hang up.

Most Email “Warnings” Are Illegitimate

You've received a message from a friend that suggests you forward it to everyone in your address book. What do you do?

Don't forward it. Delete the message!

It doesn't matter what the content is. Any request to forward information to everyone is highly suspect when it is sent to a group of people. Other's don't like junk mail any more than you do.

99.9% of these are hoaxes or some other form of malware. I suggest you stop and take a closer look at the message before taking any action. I'm appalled at how often people repeatedly forward these things without checking them out.

Hoaxes are Social "Viruses"

Hoaxes are social viruses that take advantage of our compassionate nature. Features like the following should trigger you to investigate further:

  • Any request to forward the message to everyone in your address book is almost certainly a hoax.
  • Hoaxes use emotional rather than factual approaches to lure you in (see an example).
  • Hoaxes depend on our concern for our computers (such as "virus" warnings) or greed (chain letters that pay big dividends) or compassion for others (such as saving a sick child).
  • Many cite "authority" sources, most of which never issue such warnings. If in doubt, check the authority's website for confirmation.

Avoid Spreading Ignorance

Begin with a simple Internet search for unique specifics in the message. This will give you information to test the legitimacy of any message.

  • Do not forward email "warnings." Most are false.
  • Check for accurate virus information from antivirus vendors.

Other Hoax Information Sites

You might also wish to check out:

  • Rumour Has It has an extensive categorized listing of urban legends and rumours.
  • HoaxBusters which maintains a site dedicated to the various on-line scams and hoaxes that don't necessarily relate to virus activities.
  • Hoax-Slayer debunks email hoaxes and exposes Internet scams.
  • The Identity Theft Resource Center has many useful resources.
  • lists rumours, inspirational stories, virus warnings, humorous tales, pleas for help, urban legends, prayer requests and calls to action with details about their truth or fiction.
  • Cyber-Museum of Scams and Frauds lists various financial schemes promoted by email and other means.

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Fixing Issues with Antivirus Software

If your computer is infected with the DNS Changer, you probably can't get Internet access. Fix it or learn more.

Multiple Security Products can Conflict

If you're having issues with your security software, verify that there are no competing security products installed on your system.

Competing antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall programs can conflict with each other, leaving you vulnerable to infection by viruses, malware and other threats.

  • Microsoft's Windows Defender and Windows Firewall are generally either allowed or disabled by most security software.
  • McAfee Security Scan Plus (installed with Adobe Flash as an optional download) is not recommended but shouldn't conflict.

Finding Help

While there are some generic similarities between security products (they provide the same function), you'll need to see help specific to the program(s) you're running.

I suggest that you seek help on the support website for your product then try the support forum if you have no luck. Try searching for your specific problem, using an error message or similar search criteria.

Generic searches on the Web can be helpful, but you'll need to ensure that the suggestions don't get you into more trouble or land you on a malicious site.

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Evaluating Antivirus Solutions

Microsoft Security

Microsoft enables the Windows firewall by default and checks for the presence of a current antivirus solution and scans for malware with Windows Defender.

These provide a base-line protection but are insuffient on their own.

Use a Security Suite

A security suite that includes all the security protection is recommended rather than shopping for various components.

Assessing Antivirus Solutions

Several websites and magazines evaluate antivirus and other security products. Be sure to include your specific needs into the evaluation process. Often one product will excel in one area but be weak elsewhere and these change as products evolve.

False Positives

The number of false positives (safe files tagged as viruses) should be few or none. Most antivirus programs look for certain traits that are common to virus activity to detect unknown threats. Unfortunately, this can tag legitimate program files — obviously creating issues for the person depending upon the A/V program.

Automatic Scans and Updates

Ensure that your security software will update automatically and provide for a scheduled scan to detect issues missed while running a realtime scanner (the one that checks files as they are opened).

Many people simply don't add protection and fail to ensure it is updated frequently (it is like not having health insurance or ignoring expired health insurance).

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Updated: November 20, 2015

Protecting your computer from viruses, spyware and other threats

Current Alert Listings

Checking For Alerts

You can find current alert listings on the AVG, McAfee, F-Secure and Norton websites.

Be wary when opening email attachments. Malware generally spreads though malicious email attachments (including JPG images, documents and ZIP files) or fake links, leaving you susceptible to data loss and identity theft.

If you think you might have triggered a virus on your computer view the screen shots of several virus infections.

Heartbleed, ShellShock & Poodle

2014 saw headlines about Heartbleed in April followed by ShellShock (or the “Bash Bug”) in September then Poodle in October.

Although these affect mostly servers, we are all vulnerable because we use the services they provide.


The Heartbleed bug official site -- click to learn more.

Heartbleed is a widespread security bug that affects webservers (OpenSSL runs on 66% of the Web). Until fixed, there was the potential for hackers to be able to obtain user names, passwords and credit card numbers that have previously been used on affected websites.

It's not enough for companies to simply patch the copy of OpenSSL — the software at the root of the Heartbleed bug. Companies must also revoke and reissue digital certificates for their Heartbleed-vulnerable sites. — Mashable

ShellShock (“Bash Bug”)

Named for the GNU Bash shell the biggest threat is to web servers, but many other devices that make up the Internet of Things could be more at risk and more difficult to patch.

ShellShock affects most versions of the Linux and UNIX operating systems, but also Mac OS X, which is based around UNIX.

An attacker can exploit this issue to execute arbitrary code within the context of the affected application. Failed exploit attempts will result in a denial-of-service condition. — Symantec


Poodle is a potential vulnerability discovered by Google which takes advantage of “legacy” support for an older (and vulnerable) security protocol by current servers and browsers. By fooling the server into believing the newer TLS protocol is not available, forcing them to use SSL 3.0, even if a newer protocol is supported by that server.


A new malware program called Poweliks attempts to evade detection and analysis by running entirely from the system registry without creating files on disk, security researchers warn. — PC World

Difficult to Detect or Remove

Poweliks is malware that avoid detection by running completely in the Windows Registry — there are none of the usual file on the hard drive for your antivirus program to check for.

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security detects and blocks attachments infected with Poweliks and other similar malware via Threat Emulation if activated.

CryptoLocker: Holding Your Digital Life for Ransom

CryptoLocker is ransomware, a form of malware that poses a significant threat to your data. If infected, CryptoLocker encrypts your data so that you cannot access it and demands that you pay a significant ransom fee to regain access to your data.

Like any other piece of malware, common sense goes a long way. The critical thing is it's not going to install files by itself. You have to initiate some action. — Jason Glassberg
  • Backup your data regularly so you'll still have a copy of your data if you're infected.
  • Be wary when opening email. Malware generally spreads though malicious email attachments (including JPG images, documents and ZIP files) or fake links, leaving you susceptible to data loss and identity theft.

CryptoLocker Ransomware Information Guide and FAQ is a great resource for those dealing with the original CryptoLocker. You might be able to obtain a recovery key at by providing a sample infected file.

New Variations

CryptoLocker has since morphed into new variations such as CryptoWall, CoinVault and TorrentLocker which don't respond to CryptoLocker solutions.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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