When Antivirus = Virus

virusSecurity is not convenient.  Anyone who says differently is probably trying to sell you security products.  That being said, antivirus programs have been around just about as long as viruses.  You would think by now the major brands would have cracked the code.  Now I’m not talking about the daunting task of keeping up with new strains or heuristically predicting that a given byte sequence might be an unidentified threat.  I’m referring to basic usability and not bringing my computer to its knees.

While I am a professional and fairly accomplished technologist, I am also a user and sometimes I want to be just that; a user.  I use computers to get things done.  I don’t enjoy whiling away the hours dissecting, maintaining, or fixing them… which is how I spent a chunk of my yesterday.

Let me set the stage for my rant.  I have a reasonably good PC running Windows XP SP3 on a 3.2GHz Pentium with 1Gb RAM, and an endless sea of disk space.  It’s definitely not state of the art, but it’s not so bad that it deserves to be punished by my antivirus software, which is the latest supported version and is fully up-to-date.

As to the offending software, I should probably not name it so as to avoid a slander suit.  However, it begins with “M” and rhymes loosely with Hack-A-Fee, Lack-A-Key, Smack-N-See and Sack-N-Free.

Antivirus is a Virus When…

  1. It actually causes pop-ups.  It seems like every couple weeks, I was getting a pop-up from the system tray offering me new products or urgently urging me to extend my subscription for a low, low price.  My subscription was good for another 6 months, but out of fear of exposure I had to either take the time to look that up or mindlessly succumb!  Aren’t pop-ups one of those intrusions to be prevented?  It’s like saying torture is evil, but the U.S. can do it because we’re good and not like those other guys.  Now that I’ve uninstalled this thing, maybe I’ll send it to Guantanamo.
  2. It fights to prevent you from doing basic things.  A while back, I setup my PC and another laptop as a home network to share a printer and move files around.  Windows for all its faults actually makes this very easy now, even for the average user.  After following the simple steps, my laptop couldn’t see my PC.  Realizing it was probably the product’s firewall, I could have switched back to the Windows firewall, but now I was on a mission.  I started checking for the switch that enables home networking, assuming that non-technologists also use this thing.  Nothing.  I had to check the firewall’s intrusion logs to find that requests to certain ports had been blocked within the last few minutes.  After going online to find out the common use of these ports, wouldn’t you know they are the ports typically used by Windows for home networking?  Going into the advanced firewall settings, I opened these ports and my problem along with my patience dissolved.  I mean, who wouldn’t have figured that out.
  3. It causes your PC to gasp for air.  There’s really nothing quite like waiting 2 minutes to open a file or a browser link.  During that newly realized free time, one can make coffee, learn a foreign language, or watch all the snails zipping by in the proverbial passing lane.  I assumed it was performing realtime scanning, although what scan take 2 minutes on a 30K document I’ll never know.  I systematically disabled each protection feature to find the culprit, but to no avail.  Only when I removed the program en masse did my computer rise from the dead, which tells me that it injected something beyond user control; something un-good.
  4. It must be forcibly removed to shut it down.  As I mentioned when troubleshooting my giant bucket of slow, I tried disabling each feature individually.  As far as I could tell after probing every menu, option, and orifice, there was no master switch akin to “turn this damn thing off”.  I actually had to uninstall the entire application, a choice about which I was un-conflicted by this time but still…  When you have to force your guests to leave your house at gunpoint to get them to stop breaking dishes, it’s time to rethink your guest list.

End of Rant

I’m a life-long technologist and technocrat.  I am fully capable of resolving any of the issues cited herein, but I don’t have time to waste on something that is now so pervasive and so basic to every personal computer whatever the flavor.

I ultimately did solve my problem by sending the offending software on its way to the harbor and replacing it with a choice that will remain nameless.  By the way, one of my favorite actors is Ed Norton, but he too may one day be replaced by lesser known understudies.

I realize that security requires diligence and diligence requires time.  As a CTO, I spend my days and nights worrying deeply about security on many levels.  But as a PC user, I don’t want to waste precious minutes of my life thinking about antivirus any more than I would want to throw a dinner party to discuss printer drivers.


3 comments so far

  1. Scott Oddo on

    Amen, brother. I had the same thing happen on my last computer. The subscription ran out so I started using Avast which is free but I couldn’t get rid of Hack-a-fee and it’s constant pop-ups. Finally my computer died. Problem solved. New computer has Avast (actually upgraded to the paid version) and haven’t had any headaches with it. Also have the free version on my media center. And it didn’t interfere with my home network like hack-a-fee did.

  2. Amy on

    You go Jim. When you solve your virus software problems, please come help me with mine! I didn’t realize how much the software was slowing up my systems. ARGH! Serves us right for trying to protect our systems.:)

  3. Punchinello on

    Sounds like all three of you are candidates for a Mac.

    I know, I know. Real men don’t use Macs.

    Or to be more gender neutral: Real technocrats don’t use Macs.

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