Virus Checkers – Which

Windows defender logoAVG LogoA short google for “best free virus checkers” will usually come up with AVG. Most years this is one of the best, but more recently the popups to upgrade to the paid version are more insistent and appear obligatory (but are not). Windows Defender is the Microsoft virus checker which you already have but it has a middling score in virus detection rates.

 

In my early years oNorton by Symantec logof computing Norton Utilities was a must-have set of tools and worth paying for, but many of its functions (such as undelete) are a native part of windows now and few remember the days without the recycle bin. Norton Anti-virus seemed equally attractive but it gradually got larger and more cumbersome and interfered with other programs until I gave up with it. Sophos was my favourite for a while, then Kaspersky (because it was good and, firstly, free with the OU then with Barclays)  but now I use Webroot because it had a good deal for 3 devices and it had the top score for a while. It also has a password manager system which I am wary of using because I don’t want to get stuck with a virus checker that I can’t change because I’ll lose all my passwords.

I had a client who had a ransomware issue – he had a screen demanding money to decrypt all his personal files. Fortunately it was not very good ransomware, in that all it had done was to add “.crypt” to the end of his filenames. Fixable by renaming (F2 in explorer) and editing to remove the suffixed “.crypt”.  Malwarebytes didn’t find anything, because the malware had done its “business” and deleted itself. The point is though that they had an up-to-date Norton Anti-virus, but as far as I was told, it hadn’t flagged a problem. Of course it is possible that my client had elected to ignore the warnings; however when I tried to contact Norton to perhaps provide them with some samples for analysis, I couldn’t find a way to do so, with Sophos, they had made it easy to send them a sample, so they could improve their checking. Norton, it costs but the support is great I am told but it isn’t my experience.

My goto virus checker for consulting on clients’ computers though is Malwarebytes. They have a very high rate of detection for virus’ as well as other malware such as sneaky search bars that load into your browser and change your search engine and home page and many other things too. On the rare occasion that I myself have actually got infected, Malwarebytes has saved me. I don’t know why I don’t actualkly commit to it… for one thing having two approaches to virus checking is kind of “belt and braces”. Occasionally I have installed something dodgy that has taken me a while to unravel, restoring my home pages, removing adware and such (which reminds me when installing something, even Java, read each install screen carefully and make sure you uncheck anything that looks like it’s for something else, usually adware, or a sponsored search bar). Anyway, Malwarebytes has saved me a lot of time. When my Webroot subs are due I’ll check it out again though not sure what I’d use for my second string checker then.

So in short, for the common user, the free offerings are usually fine. The important thing is to make sure they are automatically updating so you always have current virus “fingerprints”.

 

 

 

 

Stefan Ganther – Heritage Buildings Consultant

For me, a foray into a new sector, but the principles remained the same. I interviewed Stefan over the phone and via email to establish his hopes for the site and get some ideas of other sites that have inspired him. The initial process of designing his website produced some ideas based upon those inspirational sites but ultimately yielded a unique beautiful site with some innovative animation of text and images. The example website that had inspired him led me to merge different images with the same text so that a slideshow would show seamlessly. stefanganther.co.uk

Virus checkers – Why

 

Firstly, a bit of background. Virus is an emotive term that conjures up images of plague and pestilence when in fact, as far as computers go, its just software. Sometimes little more than a practical joke or a demonstration by a mischief maker that says “look what I can do”. Other terms can confuse but essentially they are all software, programs designed to do something unbeknownst to the person whose computer has been “infected”. Some terms are listed below:

  • Trojan: the virus is in another program that might wait before running or infect you whan you install the other program.
  • Malware: just bad software in general, possibly hijacking your browser with a different search tool that forces more advertising or even takes you to web sites that may actually load a virus onto your computer.
  • Adware is another term referring to software that pops up adverts or takes you sites you haven’t actually chosen. Not necessarily harmful but always annoying.
  • Worm is a standalone piece of software that spreads itself and may at some future point carry out some harmful action
  • RAT – remote access trojan that allows the creator (or someone else) access to your computer.
  • phishing – a virus or web site that deceives you into entering your password etc

All still software- a real virus can be airborne or transmitted on contact, in food etc, a computer virus can come  from a web site (usually by clicking on a dummy warning such as “Your Registry needs cleaning, you need XYZ…”, an email link (emails themselves don’t do any harm it is clicking on a link within them that does that (hold the mouse over the link or right click and (on the bottom left of your screen if not immediately at the point of clicking) you’ll often see that it is actually a totally different link, or whilst it might include a “kosher” word, it may not be right e.g. me.paypal.eu is NOT paypal.co.uk). Even if you do click on a link in an email, it is usually for “phishing” (see list above). NEVER enter security information except where you have explicitly gone to the web site directly via your browser. Also, be very careful when downloading software from the internet, if you have a good virus checker, it will warn you when you download. Sometime a false positve e.g. you are downloading a program to enable remote access by a consultant, e.g. TeamViewer. Because if CAN allow remote access it can be flagged as potentially harmful. Just be aware, especially from dodgy sites – I have heard frequent cases of infection from downloading the means to watch football over the internet (or of course porn!).

Many people I know are afraid that Facebook will “infect” them. Other than clicking on a link within a post, Facebook is probably one of the safest sites. The main danger of Facebook is the amount of time you can waste; YouTube is the same, safe as houses but it depends on what you click, check on the bottom left of your screen that the link is what it says it is. Even then, my wife downloaded a spreadsheet from a trusted facebook group. When she opened it her virus checker warned her about a macro about to run (a small program actually embedded in excel, often an intentional part of an uninfected spreadsheet). The virus checker prevented any problem. Facebook wasn’t the problem it was the link she clicked.

So, a virus is “just” software? And as such it is written in computer code.  You may hear talk of a virus “fingerprint”. All this means is that, because it is written in computer code, it has certain unique charateristics, like a book… if you enter a sentence long enough from any book, chances are there is only one book with that sentence. Same for a virus (ok it might be otherwise unintelligible machine code but identifiable nevertheless).

If you have a virus checker program it must periodically download a new list of virus fingerprints. The better ones do this frequently and the best will be identifying new ones very quickly. See the next post for more on virus checkers. The danger zone is the gap between a new virus being released and it being identified and included in the lists. Sometimes called “zero day” vulnerabilities because there is no time for a fix to have been created.  Once a new virus has been identified, virus checker publishers will usually make small programs that can be run once to undo any damage done. This is not always possible though and the best remedy is to make sure you backup all the things on your computer that you cannot bear to lose. Then the worst that can happen is a few hours spent reinstalling any affected applications (often this is where I am called in, unfortunately often with no backups available, though that is not always a problem, I have many means of file recovery). So get a good virus checker,make sure it updates frequently and  BACKUP!

 

 

 

Homepage with hero slideshow and three columns of info

PM Carpets and Flooring

Another client wanting to update an aging and poorly functioning website. I had quite a bit of content to start with from the old site and some ideas of website style. Paul had seen “Normandy Carpets” giving me a good basis to develop an even more attractive and functional website for him. Interiors are a readily available category for stock footage so the home page could be equipped luxuriantly with a range of modern interiors showcasing different flooring styles. The “Hero” slide show is a nice place to pause an absorb the information about Paul Marshall’s business displayed in three columns below.

Paul’s personable open manner meant that his about page could include his heartfelt motto ”

“I’m passionate about the work I do and a happy customer at the end of a job is extremely satisfying.”

Plus a shot of his friendly smiling face along with a link to his video and the rest of his Facebook page.

His gallery backs up his claims with some photos taken personally of his previous jobs. When combined with his testimonials page this site is a great place for potential customers to find more about Paul, his work and his background. See pmcarpetsandflooring.com

Security and backup, backup, backup

You may feel pressured to update your version of Windows because, you are told how support for older versions will cease… That doesn’t mean your computer will stop working, far from it. Although my Win 98 computer is dead now, I still have two XP computers that whir along just fine. Why? Because I have applications that only run on XP, the development has long since stopped yet I still need those programs. The main potential problem with MS ceasing support is that some of their upgrades plug security holes. Usually (but not always) these are bugs in new features that need fixing. Sometimes, however, they are long hidden issues that might only recently have come to light. The only example I can remember like this is the ‘heartbleed’ bug, very serious for Facebook, google and anyone with large databases of public information. Not an issue for the individual, and mostly that is the case for you. I say, mostly,  but you should always be prepared and back up since other things like disk failure etc can still happen.

What can actually happen if you have a security issue and how can it be avoided? For most computers; an up-to-date virus checker and maintained firewall will prevent security problems. These are unlikely to cause you problems, what you need to be concerned about is what precautions are needed if your computer fails. For personal documents and photos held on your machine? Back them up in at least two different USB thumb drives or SD cards weekly and monthly. Don’t backup your whole system, just keep all your new and important files in My Documents and back just that folder up.

It’s not really worth doing a full backup since applications will need to be reinstalled anyway. If you make sure that important stuff is in ‘My Documents’ (this might include your mail files if, say, you use Outlook on your computer rather than over the web) then if your hard disk fails or gets corrupted, you can restore to a new computer, replacement hard disk or overwrite the damaged files. This can be time-consuming but restoring is usually quicker and more likely to be successful than repairing. I recently spent 20 hours rebuilding a client’s massive archive of outlook emails. This required a specialist repair tool as well – but had they taken backups, all could have been resolved in minutes.

What should I backup onto? USB sticks come in affordable sizes up to 250gb (or more but not really affordable yet) but better value is a USB hard disk. Amazon have plenty but I’d recommend one that is powered from the usb slot (its less clutter), at least 500gb and with backup software. Google or search on Amazon (other providers exist 🙂 ) for USB hard disk (if you have a new computer it will have USB3 which is faster than USB2).  Dozens will come up, personbally I’d choose on that doesn’t need a separate power supply and has good reviews. When you have got it, use it… backup weekly or monthly whenever you have doen a lot of work, loaded new pictures etc.

I also have a separate dropbox (“cloud” or internet online storage, onedrive or google drive all serve the same purpose, I’ll blog later about this I expect). I don’t format my camera card until I have my photos in at least three places – my PC, USB drive and Dropbox.