I care about you so I’ve got to ask the question:
How much do you trust your free antivirus and anti-malware software? Is it possible that the software you depend on to keep you safe is pulling a fast one on you?
How would you know? Is there even a way to know?
I took a stole down the aisle of the biggest antivirus vendors but was disappointed with what I found…
Bamboo luvn’ Panda’s
Let’s start with the best of the best. Many regard Panda Free AV as the sine quo non toolkit for averting malware. For example, according October 2014 test results from independent AV security institute av-test.org, Panda free earned a perfect 6 out 6 score for protection.
Furthermore, it’s the 3rd most popular antivirus program on Download.com. Even PC Mag has praises Panda.
It’s hard to beat those accolades but does free always mean free? It costs something right?
Yes, and in Panda’s case that cost is your privacy.
If you’re in a hurry and you blindly click Accept and Install you’ll accidentally introduce changes that you probably didn’t intend:
- A shiny new Panda Security Toolbar
- Your default search provider is now Yahoo.com
- You homepage is now MyStart
Clearly Yahoo is paying Panda promotional fees here. I actually don’t have a problem with that. My issue is that this crap is enabled by default. It’s as if Panda said:
Of course everyone would rather use Yahoo than Google. Oh yeah, and who cares what people have carefully set their homepages to. Let’s change that while where here. No one will notice… shh….
This is bullshit and Panda should be ashamed.
But the Panda bullshit doesn’t end here.
Guess what happens when you try to delete it?
A friendly dialog box opens with the following warning:
Are you sure you want to uninstall Panda Free Antivirus and all of its components?
A sensible person would click Yes thinking that would completely wipe Panda (and every part of Panda) off the system.
I wanted to test this. So I clicked Yes, rebooted and then checked my program files…
This is the most vexing issue in the world.
Not only did Panda attempt to deceive me by installing junkware during the installation phase but then it patently lies when it says I removed “all of its components”
What the fizzuck is this? Why is there still a stupid Panda Security Toolbar and Security URL Filtering thing left behind? Why is this here? I’m so pissed right now I need to calm down.
Do you know what a Komodo is? (spelled with a “K”)
It’s a giant lizard. The Komodo is 10 freggin’ feet long that weights about 180lbs. It’s a beastly creature with creepy scales, a dragon like face, and can see up to almost 1,000ft.
So what does that have to do with anything?
Well, Comodo (spelled with a “C”) is another top antivirus solution with impeccable scores; however, all is not good.
Just like the 180lb Komodo dragon has a few extra pounds on its back, so the Comodo antivirus solution comes with a few extra bits of software too.
So here’s the thing:
What do you think would happen if you clicked Next in the Comodo Antivirus installer?
Well, I see two enabled settings:
- Something called Cloud Based Behavior Analysis is enabled
- I’ll send anonymous program stats to Comodo to improve product quality.
Okay, that’s fine… Next.
No, but not so fast! It’s not fine.
If you were to mindlessly click through the installer you would end up installing two pieces of hidden junkware.
How did I know that?
In the bottom left corner of the window there’s a barely visible link titled: Customize installation.
Clicking that installs Comodo Dragon which is a web browser and also Comodo GeekBuddy which is some lame PC tuneup software which probably slows down your PC (I haven’t tested to confirm that it impairs your PC but it’s definitely not essential)
But that’s not all.
If you clicked Next through all the screens you would also end up changing your DNS to Comodo’s DNS. Admittedly, it might be prudent to use Comodo’s secure DNS option so I forgive the first checkbox but the second check box is totally gratuitous.
I cannot forgive the second one though because it changes my homepage to Yahoo. Yahoo. Yahoo! I don’t want to freggin’ use Yahoo. If I wanted to use Yahoo I would have changed it already. Geez.
Anyway, we need to move on.
Let’s look at LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware.
Ad-Aware has Junkware
Seriously guys. What is this?
It used to love Ad-aware. Back in the day, it was my goto program for annihilating spyware, junkware and all the other bad stuff that ends in “ware”.
But what happens when I install Ad-aware today? By default it wants to burden my PC with silly software and browser changes:
- Ad-Aware Companion
- Changing my homepage to SecureSearch
- Changing my search provider to SecureSearch
The worse part is the Skip button is in some light shade of the color… what’s it called? Oh yeah, invisible.
It’s tucked out of view in the bottom left corner of the screen.
Let’s look at AVG…
Going for it with AVG
I carefully followed the installation process with AVG and to the best of my knowledge I didn’t get duped.
So it appears that I’m okay here.
I did a quick removal test to see if it was guilty of the same crap Panda pulled on me.
Thank God AVG appears to do what it says it does: clicking Uninstall actually Uninstall’s AVG
What a novel idea!
The Malware Bottom Line
In the world of free antivirus and anti-malware protection we have to make a few compromises. In exchange for free software we need to be circumspect about the options we enable. The software is free so the Antivirus vendors need some form of compensation and it usually amounts to enabled offers that advertisers pay the vendors.
Some Antivirus vendors such Avira used to smuggle a searchbar in the installation process but have wisely decided to remove it. This is commendable and I laud Avira for its judicious decision I just hope others will follow. (Especially Panda. Panda is on my crap list for its egregious lies. Who knows if its fibbing about my scan results too? But that could be a slippery slope so I don’t want to speculate)
Some of these free antivirus programs do a really good job protecting PCs from malware but the onus is on us to make sure we don’t end up opting into something we don’t want.
My biggest issue with all this is that the antivirus vendors are becoming increasingly duplicitous.
These companies have metrics, analytics, telemetry data that show most users simply click Next. And these AV vendors are using this intelligence to exploit the public for its own selfish purposes.
In other words, the “good guys” are using the same machinations the bad guys use to trick the public. It’s appalling.
What’s your experience been like with free antivirus software? I want to hear from you. Tell me what you think of the smuggled offers in most free antivirus programs. What has it been like for you? Do you know of any honorable free AV solutions that don’t hijack your homepage and sneak in offers?
Share in the comments below.
Thank you for sharing your mind. And as always thanks for reading.