Antivirus – Tech Tips, Reviews, Tutorials, Occasional Rants Fri, 21 Mar 2014 05:03:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Disable the Avira AntiVir Splash Screen at Startup Sat, 09 May 2009 03:30:00 +0000 Continue reading Disable the Avira AntiVir Splash Screen at Startup ]]> Avira splash screen Avira AntiVir is a terrific free antivirus program, but it needs a little work right after installation to perfect it. We’ve already covered how to disable the annoying popup ads after updates, but now let’s talk about how to disable one other little annoyance – the splash screen that appears on startup.

Though it’s not intrusive or debilitating at all, a splash screen is annoying to some people. I’m one of them.

Fortunately, disabling the splash screen is pretty easy.

1. Go to Start –> Run (or just press Win + R).

2. Type regedit to open the Registry Editor.

3. Navigate to [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run].

4. Double-click avgnt.

Registry Editor - avgnt

5. Add the parameter /nosplash (Windows 2000/XP) or -nosplash (Windows Vista) to this entry.

Registry Editor - editing avgnt

That’s it! The next time you log out or reboot, no Avira splash screen should appear.

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Avira AntiVir Updates to Version 9 – Make It More Usable Thu, 19 Mar 2009 00:16:43 +0000 Continue reading Avira AntiVir Updates to Version 9 – Make It More Usable ]]>

In a previous article, I mentioned how to block the annoying popup ad that spawns whenever the free edition of AntiVir updates. This is an update to the previous article to make it more relevant to AntiVir Version 9.

Avira AntiVir is one of my favorite free antivirus programs, and the new Version 9 makes it even better by adding anti-spyware features. However, two aspects that have NOT changed from previous versions are:

  1. AntiVir (free) still does not include POP3/SMTP mail scanning support.
  2. AntiVir still launches an annoying popup ad whenever it checks for updates.

The lack of POP3/SMTP support is not a big deal if you tend to stick to webmail, but the popup ad is annoying and intrusive. Let’s get rid of it.

Disable the Annoying Popup Ad

Let me make one thing clear: I fundamentally disagree with bombarding the user every day with a popup ad about a premium version. Yes, I understand that Avira needs to make money, but purposefully annoying the user in an attempt to make him pay to remove the annoyance is a poor business model indeed.

I think the free version of AntiVir is terrific, and I applaud the company for releasing a free version. However, if a user wishes to upgrade, they should do so because they think the additional features are worth buying (such as e-mail protection, a Rescue CD, etc), NOT because they are harassed into doing so. If anyone from Avira is reading this, I implore you to reconsider your business model and stop (or at least reduce) the annoyance to your users.

For the rest of us, let’s just disable it. The file that spawns the popups is avnotify.exe. You cannot simply rename the file to stop the popup because it will be replaced at the next update. We need to stop it from executing.

Windows Vista

  1. Browse to the Avira program directory (C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Destop).
  2. Right-click on avnotify.exe. Go to Properties.
  3. In the window that appears, click the Security tab. Then hit Edit.
  4. In the Permissions window, browse through all the Users. Next to Read & Execute, click Deny for each User. Click OK as many times as necessary.
  5. Open a cold one. Since avnotify.exe can no longer execute, no more ads will spawn.

Windows XP Professional

1. Go to Start → Run, and type secpol.msc
2. Click on Software Restriction Policy → go to Action (at the top) → Create New Restriction Policies
3. Right-click on Additional Rules (on the right) → Choose New Path Rule

4. Click Browse and find the avnotify.exe file (C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Destop\avnotify.exe)
5. Make sure the security level is set to Disallowed and click OK

Finished! All you have done is implemented a security policy that prevents the avnotify.exe file from executing. In no way have you tampered with or disassembled any part of the program.

Windows XP Home (and Media Center)

  1. Boot into Safe Mode (repeatedly press F8 after boot)
  2. Login under the Administrator account
  3. Navigate to C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Desktop\avnotify.exe
  4. Right-click avnotify – Go to PropertiesSecurityAdvanced
  5. Look under the Permissions folder for a listing of all the system users. Do the following for all the users:
  6. Edit – Traverse Folder / Execute File – Deny – Click OK
  7. Reboot (into Normal mode) when finished

Make Updates Invisible

One final change that I like to make is to prevent AntiVir from interrupting any fullscreen applications (such as Movies or Games) when it decides to update itself. By default, AntiVir launches a minimized window during an update, but I prefer to make it completely invisible.

To do so:

  1. Launch AntiVir. Go to Administration → Scheduler.
  2. Right-click on Daily Update and choose Edit job
  3. Click Next until you reach the Display Mode screen
  4. Choose Invisible from the drop-down list

All done. Now AntiVir won’t interrupt fullscreen applications anymore.

Avira AntiVir Personal is a good program – one of the best among free antivirus applications. These little tweaks make it even better. If you have any additional hacks tweaks that you wish to share, please comment below.

]]> 53 An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part XI – Rising Antivirus Thu, 05 Feb 2009 12:00:00 +0000 Continue reading An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part XI – Rising Antivirus ]]> Rising Antivirus logo Welcome to the eleventh installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see the Main Overview, which contains links to all the separate reviews.

Up for review today is Rising Antivirus 2009 (version 21.24.20).

Product link: Rising Antivirus Free Edition

Rising Antivirus is a relatively new competitor in the free-antivirus arena. Based in Beijing, Rising does not yet have the big reputation in the West that other security programs enjoy, but that doesn’t mean it sucks. Google thinks highly enough of Rising Antivirus to bundle it with Google Pack China, so let’s see how it compares.


At just over a whopping 60 MB, Rising Antivirus 2009 is one of the heftiest downloads in this series, topping even the latest version of AVG by a few megs. Fortunately, no registration, serial number, or activation is required. Just download and install. Some other free antivirus products could learn from this model.

During installation, you can select components to keep or remove. We applaud the inclusion of an automatic USB Flash Disk scanner. Make sure that box is checked.

Rising Flash Disk Auto Scan (install)

A reboot is recommended after install. Once rebooted, Rising will finalize its setup process and do an initial memory scan. During post-install, you have the option to join Rising Cloud Security (helps them more quickly contain a new malware outbreak). It’s better for the Internet in general to participate, but the option is yours. I read the privacy notice and didn’t see anything alarming.

For the record, I’ve installed Rising on everything from Windows 2000 to Windows 7 without problems. It even works on Server 2008.


Rising Antivirus 2009 has a slick, dark interface. Here’s the main screen, featuring tabs across the top and buttons for common actions at the bottom:

Rising Antivirus - Main

I appreciate the ability to change the Running Mode from Standard to Silent. The fewer interruptions an antivirus program provides, the better.

Rising Silent Running Mode


To check for updates manually, just mash the big Update button on the main screen. Like any antivirus program worth its salt, Rising Antivirus includes an automatic update feature. You can adjust any additional Updating parameters by going to Settings – Schedule SmartUpdate.

Rising - Scheduled SmartUpdate

To make sure the updates do not interrupt you or break any full-screen applications, be sure to check the box next to Silent SmartUpdate.

Footprint and Scanning

Rising’s resident scanner occupies roughly 8 MB of RAM on my machine. When I trigger a full scan, the memory usage crept upwards of 50 MB – not the lightest program I’ve tested, but not terrible (unless you scan your computer every two hours). Most importantly, my system feels responsive even during a full scan – a subjective test, but an important one.

Rising offers two main types of scan: a Quick Scan and a Full/Custom Scan. The Quick Scan took mere minutes to run on my machine, whereas the Full Scan allows much more control over which disks and directories to scan, including scanning of memory and the boot sector.

Rising Antivirus - Custom Scan

In prior reviews, I calculated how long it took to run a full scan. Since it has been a year since my last entry in this series and the contents of my disks have changed drastically, that test no longer has a valid basis for comparison. Suffice to say that in my subjective testing, Rising’s scanning speed seems comparable to its competitors.

Types of Protection

Rising is similar to both AVG and Avast in that it scans for viruses and spyware, but does not include a personal firewall. Main features include:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware detection, blocking, and removal (includes rootkit detection)
  • E-mail monitor (POP3/SMTP)
  • USB Flash, CD/DVD, and Network Drive monitor (Nice!)
  • Embedded Scan (protects Instant Messengers and Download Managers)
  • Web Trojan Defense
  • Malicious Behavior Interceptor (watches for program changes)

Like most antivirus programs, Rising includes a right-click targeted scan in the Explorer contextual menu. When performing a targeted scan, Rising will quickly scan the file or folder, then display the results. Dismissing the results screen exits the program. Not bad, but I still prefer Avast’s method of handling targeted scans – if nothing is detected, the program automatically exits. Why waste a click?

One handy feature is the Audit option. At a glance, Rising will share just how protected it thinks your computer is, based on its own features. There’s not a ton of information, but it will let you know if you have a deficiency, such as not scanning for a while.

Rising Antivirus - Audit


Here is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the functionality of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see how Rising handles it.

Rising Antivirus - EICAR

No problem. The EICAR file is by no means a test of effectiveness, but merely whether the antivirus program is functioning and how it handles malware. I should really try to get my hands on a system chock full of viruses for more effective testing.

Final Thoughts

Rising Antivirus 2009 does a lot of things well. The interface is professional, the features are commendable, and the price is just right. Unlike some programs, it doesn’t nag you constantly to upgrade to the paid version. I also appreciate how silent you can make it run, thereby making it an ideal install-and-forget security program.

Feature-wise, I’d say that Rising is comparable to Avast. Both include anti-rootkit protection by default (are you listening, AVG?), both have IM and POP3/SMTP mail protection, and both include specific plug-ins for protecting MS Outlook.

One killer feature of Rising is the inclusion of the USB Flash auto-scanner. More programs need to do this by default, as we have already seen a number of malware programs that spread via Flash drives.

One area that remains yet to be seen is the long-term performance of the software. Rising Free Edition is still a pretty young product, and its performance record is short. To its credit, it has already won three VB100 awards (all in 2008). Hopefully it will continue piling on awards and accolades.

Rising Antivirus is near the top of my personal recommendation list. As to whether it will de-throne Avast on my XP machine remains to be seen (though it IS my current choice on Server 2008).

Last Christmas, I set up a new machine for my parents, and I installed Rising Antivirus on it since I didn’t want them to have to deal with re-registering Avast every year. I’m not sure I can give any higher recommendation than that.

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iAntiVirus for Mac (Free) – Worth Using? Thu, 04 Dec 2008 13:00:45 +0000 Continue reading iAntiVirus for Mac (Free) – Worth Using? ]]> There has been quite a bit of fuss in the news recently about whether or not Apple recommends anti-virus software for Macs.

My take: I’m not a fanboy of any sort. I am comfortable with multiple operating systems, and I simply prefer to use whatever tool I deem best for any given job. That said, no one can argue that the overwhelming majority of malware writers target the Windows operating system. I also doubt that anyone can convincingly argue that every single Mac needs anti-virus software. Mac OS X is inherently tougher for malware writers to penetrate, but no operating system is perfect. I agree that the best defense against malware is common sense, but lots of people are gullible, and social engineering will find ways around users’ better judgment (or the lack thereof).

As a lover of free software, I choose to run (free) anti-virus software on the Windows-based computers that I manage. I also choose to run anti-virus software on my Mac.

That brings us to iAntiVirus. Many Mac users already know about ClamXav, but iAntiVirus is the other free antivirus product for Mac OS X.

iAntiVirus is developed by PC Tools, the same creators of Spyware Doctor and the AntiVirus Free Edition for Windows (see my review of an earlier version).

First of all, iAntiVirus is indeed FREE (for home and home office use), though it is currently labeled erroneously as shareware on MacUpdate. Just like many free anti-virus products in the Windows world, there is a paid upgrade available that allows for business/commercial usage plus 24/7 support. Otherwise, there is no difference between the free and paid versions.

Requirements: iAntivirus requires an Intel-based Mac running 10.5 or later.


The main program window of iAntiVirus has a simple elegance to it.

Clicking the Scan my Mac button offers three different scan types: Quick, Normal, and Custom.


Like any anti-virus program worth its salt, iAntiVirus offers automatic updates. If you want to manually check for definition updates, just click the Smart Update button in the top-right corner.

In the program preferences, you can also set a schedule for both updating and scanning.

Footprint and Scanning

Running a Quick scan on my first-generation Macbook took only 12 minutes. A Normal scan took substantially longer – over two hours. As expected, neither scan detected any infections.

Fortunately, iAntiVirus is very light on resources. Activity Monitor reports that iAntivirus only uses about 10 MB of RAM while silently monitoring in the background. Not bad at all. On my machine, the Finder occupies about 19 MB, while the Dock alone uses just over 6 MB. As I type this, Firefox is consuming about 146 MB. Geez.

During a Normal scan, memory usage crept up to 19.4 MB. Still quite acceptable.

Types of Protection

iAntiVirus offers real-time protection against viruses and other malware.

This is important: iAntiVirus only scans for Mac-specific malware. It does NOT detect any infections specific to Windows. This is both good and bad: It’s GOOD because the program has no need to bloat itself with tons of Windows-specific definitions. It’s BAD because it eliminated one of the main arguments for running anti-virus software on a Mac: to avoid passing on infections to unsuspecting Windows users.

My take: I’m fine with the Mac-specific nature of iAntiVirus. I will gladly accept more system resources on my Mac. Let the Windows anti-virus programs do their job.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I only have two complaints:

  1. You cannot access the program preferences while a scan is running.
  2. I’m having trouble finding any Mac-specific malware. I’m not kidding! I want to test this program.

So, is iAntiVirus worth using? In my opinion, yes. Do you need it right now for fear that you will fall victim to a malware attack? Probably not. But considering that it’s free and uses very few system resources, I see little reason NOT to use it. Despite what many Apple apologists might think, Mac OS X is not infallible, and I welcome another free anti-virus program to the Mac.

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Free Antivirus Program Roundup – 10 Months Later Tue, 28 Oct 2008 13:00:27 +0000 Continue reading Free Antivirus Program Roundup – 10 Months Later ]]> Many moons ago, I surveyed and wrote reviews for most of the free antivirus programs available. I covered ten different programs in detail, and even gave a few recommendations.

Major Updates

Since I wrote those reviews, many changes have occurred. First of all, many of the programs have received major updates. Both AVG and Avast now include protection against spyware, a welcome addition. Avira AntiVir has received a facelift, and PC Tools Free Edition has ascended a couple of versions, though I’m not sure it has added any features.

In the unchanged category, Comodo Antivirus is still slogging along on version 2.0 Beta, though I’m crossing my fingers that version 3 will be released soon, hopefully before the release of Windows 7. BitDefender 10 appears to be collecting virtual dust (their requirements don’t even mention Vista), Blink Personal Edition still remains largely (and unfairly) overlooked, and EAV Antivirus still isn’t worth using.

In what I feel is a great loss, AOL will soon no longer offer a version of McAfee Antivirus. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I received recently:

We are writing to inform you that your subscription to McAfee® VirusScan® Plus — Special edition from AOL will no longer be a complimentary benefit of your Free AOL membership. Your McAfee® software will continue to receive updates and operate normally until your license expires, one year from the date of registration.

Instead of offering a free version, AOL claims that they will offer more advanced security software at a substantial 43% discount. Whoopee. No thanks.

Upcoming Reviews

I’m not finished with my free antivirus reviews. There are at least two more that I have planned. One is an upcoming program that I’ve been watching for months, and another one I just discovered a few weeks ago. Both have a lot of promise, and look forward to testing them.

What am I using?

So, have any of my recommendations changed since last time? Yes.

First of all, I no longer recommend AVG Free Addition. While I still think it is a good product, the Achilles Heel in the free edition is the lack of rootkit detection. See for yourself:

Uh oh.
Uh oh.

Since other free programs DO offer rootkit detection, this glaring omission from AVG is too much to ignore.

I wish that I could recommend the McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Despite its name, I thought it had terrific potential, and I actually used it on my main computer for a few months following my review summary.

The free version of Avira AntiVir remains popular, and I reaffirm my recommendation for it. Based on detection rates alone, AntiVir is a superb product that also includes anti-rootkit support (are you listening, AVG?), but I reserve my recommendation primarily for users who:

  1. Rely on web-based e-mail only. AntiVir (free) does not support POP3/SMTP e-mail.
  2. Rely on a separate anti-spyware program. AntiVir (free) has no anti-spyware support, unlike its paid versions.

If you’re so inclined, don’t forget to deal with the nagging AntiVir popup.

I still think that Blink Personal Edition holds a lot of promise, though you almost never see its name mentioned amongst the main contenders. Perhaps its inherent complexity and level of customization deter people who are mainly looking for an “install and forget” product.

So then, which program is installed on my main machine 10 months after those reviews? None other than Avast Home Edition! The current version – 4.8 – includes anti-spyware and anti-rootkit support, as well as POP3/SMTP e-mail support. It’s simple to use, functions well as an install-and-forget program, and I love how it gets out of your way quickly during a right-click targeted scan. Curiously enough, Avast was the first free antivirus program I ever tried (6 years ago), and to it I have returned.

I’m not saying that Avast Home Edition is the subjective BEST free antivirus program. It just happens to my favorite, and therefore most recommended, for the moment.

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m an idiot? Feel free to tell me in the comments. Oh, and don’t forget to vote in the poll located in the right-sidebar.

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Suspicious Download? Scan for Viruses Before You Download with Dr.Web Thu, 16 Oct 2008 17:51:51 +0000 Continue reading Suspicious Download? Scan for Viruses Before You Download with Dr.Web ]]> If you ever find yourself downloading potentially harmful files, or if you just want an extra layer of protection against suspicious downloads, you owe it to yourself to check out Link Checker, a FREE browser add-on by Dr.Web.

What is it? Link Checker is a browser extension that allows you to scan files before you download by integrating itself into the right-click menu. Let’s see it in action.


Here I am about to download the 7-Zip file archiving utility. I’m pretty sure it’s clean, but let’s make sure.

Right-click the file to download
Right-click the file to download

Notice the Scan with Dr.Web option in the right-click contextual menu. When I choose that option, the file in question will be scanned on Dr.Web’s servers with the latest definition files.

And here is the verdict. It’s clean! No surprise.

Dr.Web says - Clean!
Dr.Web says - Clean!

Just for kicks, let’s try it on a known infected file – the EICAR anti-virus test file. No, this isn’t a real virus, but it should show up as one for testing purposes. Here we go.

Dr.Web says - Infected!

Boom! If this were a file I really wanted to download, Dr.Web would give me second thoughts.

While Dr.Web Link Checker is handy, just remember that it’s not a substitute for proper anti-virus software. As an added layer of security, it’s worthwhile.

One quick caveat – Link Checker will only scan files smaller than 12 MB. Anything larger will cause an error.


Link Checker for Firefox and Mozilla

Internet Explorer

Link Checker for MS Internet Explorer


Link Check for Opera (requires manual configuration)

An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part X – Blink Personal Edition Sun, 03 Feb 2008 02:10:38 +0000 Continue reading An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part X – Blink Personal Edition ]]> Welcome to the tenth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin
  • Part IX – McAfee/AOL Special Edition

Up for review today is Blink Personal Edition. Review version: 3.5.5 (Rule version 1435)

Product link: Blink Personal Edition

The Blink antivirus program is produced by eEye Digital Security, a company more well-known in the enterprise world than in the personal sector. In fact, I was not even aware that they produced a “personal” edition of their software until a reader pointed it out to me (thanks Andy!). Back in 2001, eEye was the first to discover the “Code Red” worm, and their customer list sports an impressive array of companies, including Visa, Harvard University, and the US Department of Justice.

With that in mind, let’s evaluate their free edition of Blink. Like the McAfee/AOL Special Edition, Blink Personal includes an antivirus program, anti-spyware, and a personal firewall. Be sure to download the “free” edition, and not just a trial of the professional version. Unfortunately, the free edition is only available to users in the continental USA and Canada. Other users will only receive a 30-day trial. From their website:

If you are located within the continental United States or Canada your subscription license will be valid for a period of 1 year from the date of activation. At the end of the 1 year license period, you have the option to purchase another subscription to maintain the protection you will have grown to trust.

If you are located outside of the locations noted above, you will receive a 30-day trial of Blink Personal.

Installation – In order to download Blink, you must provide an e-mail address. From what I have been reading, prior versions of Blink required product activation after installation. I am pleased that activation is no longer required. The download is hefty – weighing in at close to 44 MB.

During installation, Blink will ask for a serial number (not required). Without a serial, Blink will activate a subscription valid for one year.


The verbiage on their website is confusing regarding this (my emphasis added):

At the end of the 1 year license period, you have the option to purchase another subscription….

Does this mean that one cannot simply re-register on their website in order to unlock another yearly subscription, or is this in reality only a one-year free trial? I suspect the former is the case, but I wish they would use the word “renew” instead of “purchase” if they truly intend to offer a “free” version.

A reboot is required after installation.

Interface – Blink’s interface resembles a standard Windows utility, with a navigation panel on the left and a main window on the left. While it is easy to navigate, my main complaint is that the white text on the light background is difficult to read.


I like the ability to set its running mode to “silent” by right-clicking the system tray icon. This way it will not bother you if you are watching a movie or playing a video game.


Updating – Almost every antivirus program I have reviewed so far includes an “update” button somewhere on the main window. Blink, unfortunately, is not one of them. This is not a big deal, but seems like a strange omission to me.

To manually check for updates, navigate to the Tools menu first.


Like most every other free program, Blink includes an automatic updating feature. You may choose to have the updater check daily or only on the day/time that you specify.


Footprint and Scanning – Blink’s resident scanner only occupies roughly 7 MB of RAM on my machine. When I activated a full scan, Blink’s memory usage unbelievably dropped below 5 MB! Impressive.

Blink offers three different types of scans: Quick scan, Full scan, and a Custom scan. I love the ability to set a scan priority – with the slider set to idle, I could still tell that a system scan was running, but my computer remained responsive.


With priority set to idle, Blink is no speed demon. Running a complete scan on my machine (over 400 GB of files) took just under two hours, making it slower than most competing free programs. Given the added weight of the spyware scan, this is expected (and acceptable). I did not scan with priority set to normal or high.

Curiously, Blink identified part of the open-source 7-zip application as infected with W32/Istbar.CXB. Considering that none of the other antivirus programs that I tested came to the same conclusion, I can only assume this is a false positive.

Types of Protection – The number of features offered is definitely one of Blink’s strengths. The inclusion of spyware detection and a personal firewall puts it in the same league as McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Blink includes:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware detection, blocking, and removal
  • Online identity protection (anti-phishing)
  • Built-in firewall (includes stealth and passive modes)
  • Computer settings protection (protects applications and the Windows registry)
  • Missing patch protection (for media players)
  • Vulnerability assessment (an awesome tool!)

Like most programs, Blink includes a targeted scan in the “right-click” explorer menu. Performing a targeted scan is a mult-step process. First, Blink will spawn a settings window.


Secondly, a scan window will open that must be closed manually, even if no threats are found. I prefer Avast’s current method – a targeted scan spawns a scanning window, but the window automatically closes if no threat is detected.

The rules-based firewall performs admirably, but will require some tinkering and training, as there are rules available for both applications and the entire system. Many common rules are already in place and can be activated or de-activated with a click of the mouse.


I appreciate the ability to create custom firewall rules with a wizard.


One delightful feature that I have not found in any other free programs so far is the ability to create a Vulnerability Report customized to your system. Upon your demand, Blink will generate a highly-detailed report categorizing any security vulnerabilities by risk (high to low). All information regarding hardware, ports, and services will be displayed.


I’m a fairly literate guy when it comes to personal computer security, so it damages my pride to say that Blink found five “high-risk” vulnerabilities. 🙂 Fortunately, four of them were related to out-dated media players (such as Quicktime). My fifth vulnerability was related to anonymous access to the registry, something more important in a production environment than in a personal environment. Blink even offers instructions on how to fix any vulnerabilities. Nice!

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see what Blink thinks of it.


Blink snagged it before it could even touch the desktop. Excellent.

Final Thoughts – Blink is a competent, yet complex, tool. Like McAfee/AOL Special Edition, Blink will appeal to users who do not wish to install and maintain separate antivirus, antispyware, and firewall applications.

Blink does a lot of things well. It’s light on resources, feature-laden, and offers a massive amount of customization. Its Vulnerability Report alone is unparalleled in the free antivirus arena.

However, with power comes responsibility. Blink’s high level of customization also means that it takes a more knowledgeable user to fully harness its abilities. This is not an ideal “install and forget” security package for your grandmother, but more advanced users will appreciate the level of control given to them.

How about subscribing to my feed? It’s free!

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Multi-Part Series Tue, 18 Dec 2007 21:30:38 +0000 Continue reading An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Multi-Part Series ]]> Do you currently pay to use an antivirus program? Have you thought about trying a free replacement, but had no idea where to start? Do you really get what you pay for?

Fear not. As a champion of free software, I assure you that you can easily survive using a free antivirus program. In fact, I have been using a free antivirus program for about five years now. Though I had my favorites before I began this series, I decided to try every free antivirus program that I could find. This series serves as documentation of that process and provides an overview of the free antivirus program currently available.

If you have been following my series, then you know that I recently completed the ninth installment. There are still a few more possible programs that I am considering for review, but I plan to take a brief hiatus from this series. Therefore, I will use this post as the overall summary of what I have discovered so far, and will add to it when I review an additional program.

Here are the links to the individual reviews:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin
  • Part IX – McAfee/AOL Special Edition
  • Part X – Blink Personal Edition
  • Part XI – Rising Antivirus 2009 Free Edition

Keep in mind that this series focuses more on usability rather than on sheer detection rates. Naturally, the malware detection rates of antivirus programs are important, but they are not the sole indicator of a program’s merit. After all, if a program excels at detection rates but slows your machine to a crawl, is it worth using the program?

I do not have a system chock full of viruses to test, so instead I decided to focus more on aspects such as aesthetics, features, and resource consumption. If a program already has an excellent track record for detection rates, I try to point that out as well.

Summary of Features

Click the thumbnail below for a quick summary of each program, including information on registration, rebooting, ads, scanning, and upgrades.


(click to enlarge)


So, which programs do I recommend? It depends on your needs. If you use a POP3/IMAP e-mail client such as Outlook or Thunderbird, then I can easily recommend Avast or AVG.

If you do not use an e-mail client and rely on web-based e-mail, I highly recommend Avira AntiVir (provided you can deal with the popup after updates).

If you are an open-source junkie, ClamWin may suit your needs. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming release that includes an on-access scanner. ClamWin is also available as a Portable App.

For all-inclusive protection, I actually recommend McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Just try it before you knock it because of the name.

Other Thoughts

If I have only accomplished one thing by creating this series, I hope I have convinced a few people that there is no real need to purchase antivirus software when there are a number of solid free programs available. If you want to support a free program by purchasing an available upgrade, feel free, but I cringe when I see people purchasing yearly subscriptions to commercial programs without even considering an alternative.

How about you? What’s your favorite free antivirus program and why? Feel free to comment below.

Oh, if you find a free antivirus program that you think I should review, contact me.

This series took a long time to write, so if you enjoyed it, please give it a digg (or a Stumble, or Mixx, or whatever). 🙂

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part IX – McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition) Tue, 18 Dec 2007 18:44:48 +0000 Continue reading An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part IX – McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition) ]]> Welcome to the ninth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin

Up for review today is McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition). Review version: 7.2 (build 7.2.147)

Product link: McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition)

Wait a minute! AOL plus McAfee? Those two names strike fear into the hearts of computer users, at least those of us old enough to remember the internet before the explosion of blogs and the social networking craze! Back in those days when the “dancing baby” ruled, installing McAfee on a computer was like pouring motor oil into a car’s gas tank, and AOL itself was practically a virus considering its “hostile takeover” of any computer for anyone dumb enough to install it.

Still, times change, and I am willing to set aside any former bias and look objectively at their free offering, which is an antivirus/spyware scanner plus personal firewall. Let’s hope I don’t regret it!

Installation – First things first, in order to install McAfee Security Center, you must have an AOL screen name. If you have ever used the AOL Instant Messenger, then you already have a screen name. Once you sign in, you will receive a download link and a serial number.

The setup file is essentially a download manager, and will download and install the components that you choose. I opted for the full package, including the firewall.


No reboot is required after installation. The serial number that I used gave me a subscription valid until 8 December 2008, and I assume one only needs to enter the AOL screen name again to get a new serial number.

Interface – The McAfee/AOL Security Center sports a clean, professional interface. Here is the main window:


By clicking “Advanced Menu” in the lower-left corner, you can… enable the advanced menu, which displays other options such as Configure, Restore, and Reports & Logs.

I am pleased to see that there are no nag screens or advertisements to “upgrade” to any other version.

Updating – Like most every other free program, McAfee/AOL Special Edition comes with automatic updates. Not only that, you have a number of options available concerning how “automatic” you want updates to be. I prefer updates to happen transparently and in the background, but if you want to be notified before updates occur, you have the option to do so.


Of course, manual updating is easily done by clicking the large Update button on the basic menu. Once updated, a notification will slide up from the tray, which you can suppress by checking the box next to “Do not show this alert again.”


Footprint and Scanning – One quick note here: I could not get McAfee/AOL Special Edition to work properly on my main machine. This is disappointing, but considering the amount of software testing I do on my machine, the problem probably lies on my end. Installing and running McAfee/AOL on a different, more “normal” machine worked just fine. My main machine is due for a re-format sometime soon, and I will try it again on a clean system.

That said, I cannot yet report on scanning times in direct comparison to the other programs that I have tested. I will update this entry in the near future.

On my secondary machine, which is an ancient AMD Athlon XP 1700+ with 512 megabytes of RAM, McAfee/AOL Special Edition runs surprisingly well. In normal usage, the resident shield utilizes roughly 24 MB of RAM, and I have not yet noticed any significant slowdowns in normal system usage.

Running a complete scan is a slightly different story. Provided the program is minimized, the system is still responsive, but McAfee/AOL Special Edition takes its sweet time in scanning. Even though my processor is past its prime, scanning the 15 GB of files on my secondary system took almost an hour. Your results may vary, but I estimate McAfee/AOL’s scanning speed to be somewhere in between Avast/AVG (shorter) and ClamWin (longer). I will be able to draw a more direct comparison in the coming weeks. One thought here is that McAfee/AOL by default scans for spyware as well as viruses, so perhaps this is a justification for the longer scan times.

Speaking of scanning, clicking Scan on the Basic Menu will perform a full system scan. If you want to scan only specific locations, use the Advanced Menu. Here you can choose other scanning options, such as whether or not to scan archives (recommended) and look for spyware. I appreciate the option to scan for and remove cookies as well.


One other thing: by default McAfee/AOL will play a sound if malware is detected and will also display a splash screen when Windows boots. To disable both of these, go to the Advanced Menu and choose Configure, then Alerts, and then click “Advanced.” You may then un-check those options.


Types of Protection – The number of protection types offered in McAfee/AOL Special Edition is rivaled only by Avast. For starters, it includes:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware shield (detects, blocks, and removes)
  • Built-in firewall (includes stealth mode and lockdown)
  • E-mail and IMAP/POP3 scanning
  • Instant Messenger scanning – useful if you send/receive files through IM
  • Rootkit detection
  • Script blocking
  • Boot-time protection

This is the only free program I have reviewed so far that includes virus protection, spyware detection, and a firewall all in one bundle. If you are attracted to the idea of installing a single program to handle most of your security needs, then you will enjoy McAfee/AOL Special Edition.

Like most every other program, McAfee/AOL integrates a targeted scan into the “right-click” explorer menu. Performing a targeted scan will spawn a result window from the system tray that looks like this:


While I appreciate the option to not show that alert again, there is one significant flaw in the program logic. When I choose an option to NOT see an alert, I assume that I will only have to interact with the program if there is a threat. However, the way McAfee/AOL currently works is that choosing to not show the alert will cause the entire program to launch from the tray after a “right-click” targeted scan! This goes against all reason and logic in choosing to NOT show an alert in the first place! I prefer Avast’s method – a targeted scan spawns a scanning window, but the window automatically closes if no threat is detected.

The personal firewall is surprisingly full-featured for a free offering. It includes a security-level slider, program and system services permissions, as well as the option to trust or ban IP addresses by range. Not bad.


One other neat feature of the McAfee/AOL Security Center is the Manage Network option. In a nutshell, if you install the program on more than one computer in your network, you can monitor its status and even perform remote vulnerability repairs. In the screenshot below, you can see a layout of my home network, and McAfee/AOL is currently installed on two machines.


It looks slick, but I’m not sure how useful it would be for me in practice. Perhaps more useful would be the option to check the status of a machine over the internet (such as a parent’s or grandparent’s computer), but that would involve port forwarding and other potentially complicated issues.

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see how McAfee/AOL Special Edition handles it.


Boom! The file did not even have a chance to hit the desktop before McAfee/AOL snagged it. Well done.

Final Thoughts – I have been using McAfee/AOL Special Edition as my default malware scanner and firewall for several days now, and I must say that it has grown on me. Sure, its scanning speed is slower than some other free programs, and I don’t care for how it handles “right-click” targeted scans, but for a free program, it has a lot of potential. As I mentioned before, the addition of real-time spyware detection plus a personal firewall to the free antivirus package gives McAfee/AOL a lot of appeal.

Mainly, it will appeal to people who do not wish to install and maintain separate antivirus, spyware, and firewall programs. Sure, you can achieve similar results by running a combination of free programs such as AVG, Spyware Terminator, and Online Armor (or whichever separate programs you prefer), but McAfee/AOL is simpler for many people. For instance, if you are responsible for maintaining a parent’s or grandparent’s Windows machine, it’s very easy to just install McAfee/AOL Special Edition and then occasionally double-check it by running a program like ClamWin from a USB-flash drive.

As I mentioned in my AVG review, I prefer programs that do one thing and do it well, so I doubt I will use McAfee/AOL on my main machine. However, I’m tempted to install it on my wife’s computer for more long-term testing.

One thing is for certain: I see no reason for people to spend money on antivirus software (especially by McAfee!) when such an offering is available for free.

Unfortunately, many people will be unable to look past the McAfee and AOL labels and judge the program objectively, but those who do may be as pleasantly surprised as I am.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part VIII – ClamWin Wed, 12 Dec 2007 06:33:52 +0000 Continue reading An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part VIII – ClamWin ]]> Welcome to the eighth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic

On the docket today is ClamWin Free Antivirus. Review version: 0.91.2
Product link: ClamWin Free Antivirus

A quick note – ClamWin is unique among all the free products that I have reviewed thus far because it is open-source. Due to its open-source nature, there are absolutely no nag screens, advertisements, registration requirements, licenses, expirations, or paid upgrades. Sweet.

ClamWin is also similar to the free version of BitDefender in that it currently does not have an “on-access” scanner.

Installation – Installing ClamWin is as easy as falling off a horse. As mentioned before, there are no registration requirements, serial numbers, or any other hurdles. Just install and start using. Due to the lack of “on access” scanner, Windows Security Center does not recognize ClamWin as a valid antivirus program.

Interface – You won’t find any flashy interface here. ClamWin is designed for one main purpose – scanning your drive(s) for viruses, and that’s what the main interface presents. Here it is:


Can you say “barebones?” The scanning window is very stark as well.


Don’t let the start interface fool you – there are a number of configuration options available under the hood.

Updating – Holy updates, ClamWin! When they say on their website that the virus definitions for ClamWin are “usually updated several times a day,” they mean it! You can choose update settings based on hourly, daily, weekday, or weekly intervals.


Once I set it to “hourly,” I began noticing update notifications like these almost every hour.


Of course, you can choose to disable automatic updates and update manually if you prefer, though I don’t recommend it.

Footprint and Scanning – Due to the lack on an on-access scanner, ClamWin consumes almost no resources. It resides in the system tray, updating itself like mad and patiently waiting for you to tell it to do something.

Scanning, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. While my system remained responsive during a scan, ClamWin’s scanning time is by far the slowest of all the programs I have tested so far. For starters, there is not a one-click “complete” scan option – but it IS possible to just shift-click the drives that you wish to scan. Simply scanning just one of my drives took hours. Whereas most programs can scan my full system in just over an hour (over 400 GB of files), I estimate that it would take six hours or more with ClamWin. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Scanning time is by far ClamWin’s weakest area, but due to its open-source nature I suspect that it will improve in the future.

Types of Protection – As I mentioned, ClamWin does not currently have an on-access scanner. Its main purpose is to function as an on-demand scanner, just like the free edition of BitDefender. However, ClamWin surpasses BitDefender in that it offers integration with Microsoft Outlook. From what I can tell, ClamWin only supports Outlook for POP3 mail protection, and not other programs such as Thunderbird. Again, this is a feature that has room to grow, and I suspect that it will have support for open-source mail clients in the future.

ClamWin has the ability to scan memory, and also integrates into the “right-click” explorer menu for targeted on-demand scanning.

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it.

As with BitDefender, this particular test is invalid due to the lack on an on-access scanner. Even so, we can see if the targeted on-demand scanner finds it.


Yes it does. Be sure to check your preferences in order to tell ClamWin what to do with infected files. There are three options available: report only, remove, or move to quarantine.

Final Thoughts – ClamWin is an interesting choice in the free antivirus arena. I applaud its open-source nature and its numerous configuration options. The slow scanning speed is a letdown, but it makes up for it with its manic frequency of updates.

If you can live without an on-access scanner, then perhaps ClamWin is right for you. If you have careful surfing habits and regularly scan executable files before you run them, you probably won’t miss the on-access scanner. Just maintain vigilance and set a scheduled scan every day/week.

For most people, though, the lack of an on-access scanner is certainly a limitation at this point. The good news is that an on-access scanner is in active development. Once it is unleashed, I suspect that ClamWin will turn many heads in the free antivirus arena. I look forward to that day.

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