Tag Archives: Microsoft Security Essentials

Free Anti-Virus – The Best Way to Protect Your PC

Summary Difficulty Rating Time to complete
Replacing your existing Anti-virus with a free alternative.   20-30 minutes

As I mentioned in my last post, the first question I ask is whether people have a backup.   The second question ask is whether they have up-to-date anti-virus software installed.

A shocking number of people fall into the group of having anti-virus software that hasn’t been updated since their trial period ended, and yet still believe they are protected.

Let me make this clear – if your subscription has expired then you are NOT protected.

But who can blame them?  Anti-virus software is expensive, isn’t it?

If you go with what arrived on your PC then, yes, it is expensive.  PC manufacturers make extra money by including software (known collectively as Bloatware) because vendors pay them.  Norton and McAfee fully expect you to sign up when the trial period runs out because you don’t know that you have a choice.

But there are companies that offer great anti-virus solutions for free!  Why?  Well, some do it for philanthropic reasons while others (e.g. Microsoft) do it because they need Windows to appear secure if they want people to buy it.

Replacing your existing anti-virus with a free alternative is a relatively painless procedure involving 3 easy steps.

  1. Remove your existing anti-virus
  2. Install the new anti-virus
  3. Configure your anti-virus to automatically update and scan your machine

Here we will cover installing Microsoft Security Essentials.  Why MSE?  Well, as I see it, Microsoft know more about their products than anyone else and have a vested interest in presenting Windows as virus free.  Unlike the big boys in the virus world, it is not in Microsoft’s interest to have you worrying about viruses.  I have also found MSE to take less CPU than some of the other offerings.

Let’s get started.

1. Removing your existing Anti-virus

Since most PCs come with Norton or McAfee installed the first thing we need to do is remove that, because running multiple copies of AV software is really bad news.  Normally this is a simple affair, however do not take this step until you are ready to complete step number 2, otherwise you will be left completely naked – and for some of you that isn’t going to be anything we want to see!

To remove your existing software click the Start button and select “Control Panel”.  Depending on which version of windows you are running you will then take one of several options:

  • Windows XP:
    Select the option “Add or Remove Programs”  
  • Windows 7 or Windows Vista:
    Select the option “Uninstall a program” 

Wait for the list of programs to populate and then then locate your current AV software.  Click on that program name to highlight it and then click Remove (Windows XP) or Uninstall (Vista/Windows 7).  Follow the prompts to uninstall the software.  Make sure that you reboot your machine after uninstalling to be sure it completes this process.

During this step you will most likely receive warnings that your PC is unprotected.  Don’t worry – we will fix that in step 2.

Note: If you already have a paid subscription then uninstalling the program will not stop future payments - many companies default to charging your credit card each year "for your protection" and you will need to contact them to stop future payments. 

2. Installing Microsoft Security Essentials

Now we are ready to install the Microsoft anti-virus software on your machine.  To do this open a browser and visit this link – Microsoft Security Essentials.  Select the Free Download link and select the version for your Operating system.

If you are given the option to Run the software – take that.  If not, download the program to somewhere you can find it later, open that folder and (once the download is complete) and double-click to start the install.

Follow the instructions on the screen (which involves clicking Next a couple of times, plus agreeing to the software license).

3. Configure your anti-virus to automatically update and scan your machine

Once the install is finished take the option to scan your machine for threats.  Doing this will automatically download the latest virus definitions are part of the scanning process.  Your PC will continue to show an “at risk” status until this first scan is complete.   This first scan can take a while, depending on how large your machine is, however you can continue to use your machine while this is working.

Finally, you are going to want to set up your anti-virus to automatically scan your PC on a periodic basis.  This allows the scanning (which can slow your machine) to occur while you are not using the machine, and because it will download new definitions before each scan.

To set this up run the software (it will already be running if you are following on from above) by clicking on the little castle in the toolbar.  Select the Settings tab and set up a time when your PC will be on but not in use.  Make sure that the option to check for the latest virus and spyware definitions box is checked.

That’s it!  Now you can continue to enjoy the use of your PC free from viruses and without fear that your subscription will run out.  Better yet, you have just saved yourself  $50 per year, all for 20 minutes work.

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Filed under Free Software, PC Problems?, Viruses, Windows

Virus Scanners and Snake Oil

Biohazard SymbolThere are millions of infected PCs in the world and they are coming after you through cyberspace – are you protected?

Regardless of the machine you are using, I think the answer is somewhere between no and…it depends.

IT security is enough of a black art that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “security professional” sacrificing a chicken over the mother-board to expel its demons.  And if you put 3 “security professionals” in a room and asked them to select the best Anti-virus program you’ll get 4 answers. None of them will be able to articulate why they chose one over the other but, when pressed they, will resorting to implying  that it’s too technical for you to understand, which should probably be read as  “I have no idea, but it sounds way cooler if I choose a program no one has heard of.”

There are plenty of anti-virus choices out there, and the fact that most industry reviews won’t include the free offerings for fear of losing ad revenue, makes figuring this out all the more challenging.

Frankly, I don’t trust any company that is making money on virus scanners, mostly because if I were the CEO of McAfee or Symantec, I’d be paying people in China to write viruses that only my software could detect – thus keeping the paranoia high and my detection ratings even higher.  Just saying….

But the free security offerings do seem to do a reasonable job of keeping my machines clean, so I believe that most  of the benefits touted by the paid AV companies are in the snake oil group, designed to keep you paying them to protect you.

Fortunately, Microsoft has recently started to include their free Security Essentials (MSE) system as an optional part of its regular Windows update.  Personally, I think this is a great step forward, because there are a shocking number of PCs out there with no Anti-virus protection at all – usually  because people opted not to pony up when the trial subscription ran out – and this is bound to fill at least a few of those holes.

Those of you reading this on your Apple MAC, are probably feeling pretty smug, because viruses don’t affect your machines…right?

Well don’t go thumbing your noses at your Windows cousins just yet, because you are not immune.  Much of the reason that MAC based systems have fewer viruses has been, frankly, because they didn’t offer a big enough target.  But, with their growing popularity, that situation is changing quickly.

Unix based platforms (including MAC and Linux) may be technically more secure, but most viruses get in through social engineering and not security loopholes.  It doesn’t matter how good your security is if you open the door and invite that nasty virus in.  If you don’t believe me, watch this video and tell me you wouldn’t have installed that program.

And MAC users shouldn’t be so selfish!  Just because you are immune to a Windows virus does not mean you are free to spread it to other people like some modern Typhoid Mary.  How are you going to feel when someone calls you to say you gave their PC the ‘clap’?  If you answer ‘well then they should have bought a MAC’ then you have truly drunk the Apple cool-aid.

ubuntu-910-vs-windows-7Personally, I take a belt and braces approach.  Each of my Windows PCs has Microsoft Security Essentials as the main virus protection, and a dual-boot of Ubuntu Linux (a great, free, operating system) running ClamAV.  This gives several advantages:

  1. Some viruses are great at hiding from Windows programs, so I periodically boot into Linux and run a virus scan of the entire disk from there. It is not uncommon for the Ubuntu scan to find programs that the Windows scanners have missed.
  2. Should Windows become unusable, I can boot into Ubuntu, access my files, and run a virus scanner from outside of Windows.
  3. Some viruses are smart and protect themselves – for example, they will install multiple versions that check each other and, should one die, immediately reinstate it.  They can’t protect each other if they never start in the first place.

For any of you fellow geeks who are interested, I have included instructions on how to set up that dual-boot here.

Ultimately, the most important thing is for you to do something – ANYTHING – to protect your machine. I don’t care if you are a gold member of McAfee, run the free AVG product or never actually plug your PC into the Internet, but if you infect me or one of my friends, then I’m coming after you…in cyberspace, of course.  😉

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Filed under Technology