The average computer user is not an IT (Information Technology) professional. That said, the average computer user, computer users below average (especially), and many above average computer users, will end up with some kind of computer related problem at least once while using computers. There are a great number of reasons why this will occur, but for the most part it is because there are a number of programs out there that attempt to use computers for a specific purpose, while ignoring the desires of the computer’s user. Spyware, malware, adware, and any number of computer viruses belong in this category.
However, there is help. A number of programs and sites have been created to combat these malicious programs and codes. Sites like doxdesk.com allow users to check their computers for various pieces of “unsolicited commercial software” (http://www.doxdesk.com/parasite/). Other sites, offer tools to remove this kind of software, and check for it, much like an anti-virus program does. Examples of these include Spybot-S&D (http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html) and SwatIt.Org (http://swatit.org/). For the most part, these programs are free, but commercial versions of these programs, as well as for similar programs, also exist.
Anti-virus software is slightly different. While there are a number of programs available for free to combat malicious ‘*ware’, there are very few free anti-virus programs. Instead, the majority of help rests on a few programs that must be ‘bought’ year after year.
Two of the biggest names are Norton, which is provided by Symantec, and McAfee. Most recently, Microsoft has been moving into this domain, which has brought up some major concerns, which I’ll address in a moment.
For the most part, most pre-built computers, such as HP, Dell, and the like, come with Windows and a trial of either Norton or McAfee, depending upon who built the computer. This trial usually lasts a short time, sometimes up to a year or so, at which point you must purchase a new subscription to the product, to continue to get updates.
Updates are a necessary part of anti-virus programs, as well as anti-maliciousness in general. Since viruses and malicious programs are continually being created and updated, the measures against these must also change. It should be pointed out that this also applies to the programs I mentioned above (SwatIt and Spybot-S&D), but since these have free versions, the updates are also free (again, assuming you don’t use the commercial versions, if they are available).
Unfortunately, most computer users have made few choices over the years, when it comes to anti-virus software. Since one of the two programs (Norton or McAfee) is already installed, few people search for an anti-virus program, instead relying upon what they have on their computers already (preinstalled by the computer manufacturer).
Unfortunately, this lack of participation causes real problems down the line. First, just because you own and have an anti-virus program installed on your computer does not necessarily mean that you’re protected. I’ve been on numerous computers that, for one reason or another, has problems with its anti-virus software.
Problems can be as simple as not being updated (even though updates can be downloaded for free – such as in the case when they’ve just brought the computer home and are within the trial period), or as drastic as the program being disabled. This latter problem really moves to the forefront when the user’s subscription to the software updates ends.
Instead of paying1 the subscription renewal of $25/$30 for Norton, or $40 for McAfee, many users will go without a proper anti-virus program. If users want to switch, few will pay the $50 for Norton or McAfee, especially after hearing that they’ll have to pay the prices mentioned above in a year. Of course, that’s assuming that they’ll even realize that they should have an anti-virus program installed and running.
It would seem to many people that Internet security would be something that everyone should strive towards. Id est, in the real world, we all (or most of us) pay taxes that help support policing organizations. The police then attempt to keep crime away from all of us. Some pay more in taxes, and therefore support the police more, while others pay far less. Yet, the police don’t care how much you pay – rather they need only the money to get the tools to help get the job done.
However, the Internet does not work like this. If it did, security programs would be available to everyone, with people paying what they could. However, if someone couldn’t pay, they wouldn’t be prevented from being secure.
Some might argue that this argument is invalid, in that the Internet is nothing like the real world. However, as way of example, I offer the malicious programs that hijack a computer and send email out to others using the computer’s Internet connection. We also have programs that attempt to attack computers or servers by way of a DOS (Denial of Service) attack, through the use of multiple, infected, computers. Just as the proverbial butterfly has an impact on the other side of the world, so too do infected computers have an impact upon non-infected, and even secure, computers.
Enter into this scene companies that see this problem and solution. Grisoft, and soon Microsoft (perhaps), see that a secure world does not simply mean offering a program for sale – it also means making sure that everyone has some basic level of security. Not everyone can have a security guard circulating through their community at night, but everyone can have a lock on their door.
The problem is, some people see this as a threat. This issue has especially come to the forefront because of Microsoft’s decision to enter into the domain. Yet, companies like Grisoft have been in this domain for a number of years, and have not impacted the industry.
Yet, Microsoft is a big name company, and more people are likely to hear about Microsoft’s program, and therefore more people are likely to install it. Another issue may be that Microsoft will bundle their anti-virus program with other of their products, much like their media player and browser, both of which unfairly drew the wrath of a number of groups.
Yet, seeing as how I believe most people would agree that Internet security is an issue that impacts everyone online, I’m not sure that Microsoft’s recent step, and Grisoft’s continued activity, is something that is either surprising or negative. Rather, the pushing of companies to make anti-virus software available to everyone is something to be applauded and rewarded.
I also question whether even Microsoft can have a ruinous effect upon McAfee and Norton. If anything, Microsoft will call into question McAfee and Norton’s practices of only allowing their software to those that are willing to pay time and time again, something that Grisoft has ‘quietly’ been doing for the past couple of years.
I hope that Microsoft is able to impact the industry as much as most technology ‘experts’ say that the company will, but not in deeds, rather in change. Id est, while most are arguing that Microsoft will kill competition, I think that it will, as stated above, force McAfee and Norton to change their almost solely single-minded views of serving some, to serving all.
- These prices are as of January 9th, 2005, and based upon the stores of both companies.
- At this point, I should point out that I am extremely biased, in that I believe Grisoft (http://www.grisoft.com/) is doing something that benefits the entire Internet community. While many sites do allow free scanning, they also require that the computer visit a site and run the scan from the site. Grisoft removes the chance that you’ll forget to visit the site and run a scan, and actually helps you keep your computer secure. Hurray for Grisoft.
Created: January 9th 2005
Modified: February 5th 2005
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