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Antivirus companies to avoid

The things we do for fun! The other day I was on the phone to an antivirus company called Norton (also known as Symantec). Every step of the way they tested my patience, checking things that had already been checked, doing things that didn't need doing. They were of course running out of some call center in India for perhaps 50c an hour, so I used my limited compassion and let them waste both my and the clients time. But when you get to 50 minutes of wasted time and they still won't admit they've got a problem or give you a refund, it's time to find another antivirus product.

Norton has always had problems; when it's not their appalling customer service, or their labyrinthine uninstall processes, it's the problems they actually cause to machines they're meant to protect. In the mid-2000's, installing their software was considered worse than having a virus. Even in this decade they've been found to actually expose systems to increased risk, by using outdated programming procedures. They're the number 1 company I tell people to avoid when they ask about antivirus software. There are, however, others.

A peculiar package that I sometimes see on client's machines is "360 Total Security". Not to be confused with Norton 360 (a product from the late 2000's), this appears to be a semi-legitimate antivirus product. However there have been reports of it sending information from users machines back to a server in china. This may be harmless, but like Huawei could also be part of a larger Chinese government data-mining operation. They have also been found guilty of providing fake products to antivirus comparison agencies, in order to get better ratings and make more sales.

Staying in China, there's also a more well-meaning but flawed product called "Panda Antivirus". The main problem with Panda is that it has a habit of creating too many 'false positives', that is, detecting things as viruses which aren't actually viruses. In 2016 it incorrectly detected core system files on many windows computers as viruses and removed them, resulting in thousands of computers being unable to boot up or access the internet. Meanwhile in India we have "Quickheal", which has offices in NZ but some of the poorest virus detection statistics in the world.

Back on the western front, Trend Micro is another product I avoid, for two reasons; poor programming and performance. It's one of the slower antivirus packages; all antivirus packages will slow down your system to an extent, but some are worse than others. It's also guilty of some worrying security flaws: in 2016 it was found to contain code which would allow a hacker to silently steal any of the end user's passwords and usernames. Weren't antivirus programs meant to be making your computer more secure?

So enough whining - who do I recommend? Well you've got several options. The best one in my view, is probably Eset and their paid antivirus solutions. This company has an office in Auckland, so you can talk to real tech support people who aren't getting paid peanuts and will actually try and help you rather than pass the buck. More to the point however, they have one of the best antivirus packages in terms of performance and security. If you currently have a paid subscription to another antivirus product, they should be able to give you a 'crossgrade' discount to help you move to their product.

Also of note is "Avira", which is a reputable antivirus company with both paid and free products, and it does extremely well in both detection and performance categories. The free version will of course bug you to upgrade to a larger product, but there's little advantage to doing it (so just ignore the ads). Lastly, there's the built-in antivirus that comes standard with Windows 10, also known as 'Defender'. It is better than nothing, doesn't cost a cent and won't bug you to upgrade to anything, but it's worth noting that it consistently performs worse in it's detection statistics than paid solutions. It is fine for lightweight computer use and internet browsing, though if you're going further afield on the net, you may need something sturdier. If you choose rightly, then perhaps the hours I've spent trying not to swear at customer service reps for antivirus companies will not have been in vain.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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