Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is My Anti-virus Software Bogus?

By Coenraad De Beer

A golden rule in life is to stick with the proven and trusted. The same rule applies when choose security software for your computer. There are many well-known names in the industry that has been securing computers for years and have build up trust with consumers over the years. But in the ever-changing world of computers you have to stay ahead of competition and keep improving and enhancing your products. Unfortunately this has caused some companies to loose the focus they had and the quality of their software suffered because of this, they were constantly trying to tamper with a formula that has been working for millions of users. You can’t fix something that has not been broken.

New, intuitive and creative companies were needed to provide the same quality of no-nonsense security software we were used to. Luckily we have seen a few of them rise to the occasion but unfortunately this created an opportunity for unethical and criminal practices that has taken the world by storm. So-called security software companies have come to the foreground with “incredible” solutions to the security issues of your computer. They provide you with a demo of what their software can do and if it finds problems on your computer you can buy it at a ridiculously low price. This sounds more than marketing hype than anything else. You even get some companies that offer you the software you can test for “free” for a specified period (normally 14 to 30 days). But there is no such thing as a free lunch. You have to buy the software first and then you can return it for a full refund within this specified period if you are not completely satisfied with it. What part of free does these companies not understand. If you have to pay for something its not free anymore. This is unethical misleading marketing and people should not support companies like this. We live in a world of free trial versions and demos (the try before you buy policy) that expire after a specified number of days. If they can’t even develop a self-expiring demo, how can expect that their software will provide adequate security for your computer?

But even a free trial version can be a dangerous piece of software. Spyware (adware) is normally hard to get rid of and once you install them you have to go to great lengths to get them removed from your computer. Many of these companies develop trial versions (they are actually spyware programs) that block other security software from getting installed on your computer and make you believe that your computer is infected with malicious software and the only way of removing them is by buying the full version. And even after buying the software you still receive constant pop-up ads and annoying windows throwing all the other junk developed by these companies in your face. Other trial versions do report on low priority threats that are really on your computer but over inflate their security risk. A cookie is much less dangerous than an executable file.

So how exactly do you distinguish between the legitimate and illegal software on the Internet. This is no easy task, but there are a few things you can do to verify if the company has honest intentions with their software.

  1. If there is no trial version to download, look the other way. If you can’t try the software before you buy, don’t waste your time with it.

  2. If you get buttons and links telling you to download the software and once you click on them you are taken to an order form, get out of there. Legitimate companies make it clear when you are taken to a download page and when you will be taken to an order form. There is a huge difference between “Download Now!” and “Purchase Now!” the first one creates the impression of a free download, while people will only click on the latter if they are willing to buy. Unethical companies don’t want to miss out on the chance of a click and they put the visitors under the false impression that they can download the software for free.

  3. Contact details are very important. Large organisations have telephone numbers, a physical address, postal address and e-mail addresses on their contact page, not just an e-mail form with no other way of contacting the organisation. Be wary of companies with only a single contact form and no direct way of communication.

  4. Verify the statements they make. They normally claim that their software has been acknowledged as the best security software by some other well-known organisation. If the well-known organisation exists, verify it on their web site or contact them, if they do not exist, how can you trust the software of a company who lies to their customers? Legitimate acknowledgements are normally backed up by a logo of the company who did the acknowledgement with a link to their web site. If this is absent you can’t add any credibility to this statement.

  5. Do some research with your favourite search engine and visit forums asking for the opinion of other people about the software. But be very careful here, the people providing an opinion may be affiliates of the company and will not tell you the truth about the software. You have to get an honest opinion so ask for several opinions, don’t base your decision on one person’s opinion. If you can’t find anything about the software on the Internet, rather stay away from it.
There are many trustworthy, effective and well-known brands of security software available today, many of them are free for home users. It is good to see that there are companies providing free effective security software to the individual. This clearly shows that these companies are not just out there to make money but they are making a valuable contribution to the battle against malicious software and protecting the consumer against fraudulent and cheap imitations of security software. I’d rather stick with the proven and trusted.

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, prevention of online fraud and educating users against malicious software.

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