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Anti-Virus Virus

I got a panicked phone call from my mother.   “Outlook won’t open.  It’s f*&*#$.  I think all my emails are lost.”

I asked what she was doing when it failed.  Nothing, she said, the problem started as soon as she turned on the computer but it was working fine yesterday.  I had her reboot, run through virus checks; everything I could think of.  Nothing worked.

When I got the computer I found the problem in the error logs: Virus Software.  No, not a virus, I mean – the Virus Protection Software itself was the problem.   The new computer came preinstalled with free trials of MacAfee’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink security software.  What it didn’t come with was clear notice about what happens if you don’t purchase the software, or uninstall it, before it lapses.

The day that Outlook died, or seemed to, was the day all the free trials lapsed.  The anti-virus component had been paid for; the others were overlooked and ignored.  They didn’t like the lack of attention.  The anti-spam component (I believe) had a bond with Outlook and hung on like a jaded ex-lover.  Outlook tried to function but it was smothered by the anti-spam piece.

As soon as the McAfee pieces (including the virus software) were uninstalled outlook came back to life as vigorous as ever.   The computer had an Anti-Virus Virus.  It was easy to fix, not obvious to diagnose, and the experience left the computer vulnerable (unprotected) against other virus threats.

I was left wondering – in a world where computers are increasingly at the core of our daily routines and security software is essential, is there a product that works with little headache, or are they all lesser-of-evils solutions that we accept as imperfect and tolerate with a few curses and rants because we have no other choice.

In published reviews from CNET  to PC Magazine to blogs to newsgroups, there was not one definitive stand-out leader in the field. Arguments of pros and cons were as contested as a dinner conversation about partisan political issues probably is at James Carville and Mary Matalin’s table.

Paraphrasing some of the findings:

  • Kaspersky Labs– great detection lab, always on top of the latest virus  BUT there were enough references to blue screen system crashes (The computer equivalent of an STD) that I wouldn’t’ want to touch it.
  • Norton– one of the big old standbye’s and a favorite if you don’t mind the occasional system drag (when your new Ferrari of a computer won’t go past 20 mph for a few minutes here or there)
  • McAfee-  Not bad if you want convenience over control, and presuming you aren’t frustrated by recent experiences like some jaded writers.
  • Zone labs – not bad for a firewall maker, but still cumbersome.

So what’s the choice for the average user where “average user” is someone who doesn’t wear aluminum foil on their head to tune out the voices, doesn’t write lines of code in their sleep (or even awake), but who does know the difference between ROM and RAM and can do more than just click “accept” on a user agreement before software auto installs itself?  Seems you are as well suited to put the names of the above on a dartboard and take whichever you hit two tosses out of three as with any means of making the choice     

The computer equivalent of abstinence and isolation (no internet, no network) isn’t feasible.  It’s an imperfect world and we’re stuck with imperfect solutions. 

yoggie gatekeeper One solution that hints at great promise is  a small hardware security appliance from a venture funded Israeli startup called Yoggie. The Yoggie device, called the Gatekeeper, which has been reported on since September 2006, is a small external device (small as in, fits in the palm of your hand) that offloads most of the vital security tasks from your computers processor to the Yoggie’s Pentium III level onboard miniaturized security processor.  Just like on big networks, where the first step in security is to isolate the threats (and applications) from the rest of your resources, the Yoggie creates a security solution that acts like a moat around the castle of your laptop/pc.    This separation provides extra security in the event of a breach.  It’s like someone breaking the lock on a gate that lets them into your yard, but not the lock into your house.

 The Yoggie Gatekeeper’s own onboard processor powers most of the tasks – sparring the dreaded lag time caused by some software programs running in the background.  The onboard security components include anti-spam, anti-virus, spyware protection, email proxies, VPN Clients, intrusion protection and firewall technologies.  The virus detection system and library is powered by Kasperski Labs.  Onboard dual flash memory units keep a stored copy of Yoggie’s Linux Operating System (OS) so that in the event of an intrusion – you can reboot from a clean, uninfected, version of the OS. What is really nice – the Yoggie can be hooked up to a single computer or it can be run inline between your router and modem to protect an entire small office/home (SOHO) network.

I haven’t personally tested the Yoggie Gatekeeper, though I am hoping too.  Currently it only seems to be available through its website.   It’s my hope, the device will live up to its initial billing and prove to be a top notch product suited to both consumer and business security uses.  I am anxious for solutions better than what’s out there.  I don’t want to deal with more of the Anti-virus Virus problems.

In the meantime, I won’t rush to short the stock on anti-virus companies.   In their defense, it is a complicated world and the problems aren’t going away.  Making software that works with everything, doesn’t hamper performance, is easy to use and properly disclaimed and warranted to prevent litigation is a hopeless task.  Need for the product (which isn’t waning) is driving demand and not quality.

And there’s always Apple for those ready to throw in the towel and go to a system a little less prone to attacks and trouble.

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