One question all computer hackers find hilarious is probably the most commonly asked, "Which anti-virus software is right for me?" Just getting this out there-- when you ask this question, we universally assume you're an idiot. No offense. We just know the secret of anti-virus software-- it's a scam.
It's a completely separate discussion. But technically, all licensed software is a scam. Truthfully, there is no good reason to pay for someone else's software. Period. Who better to design software for your computer system then *you*? But, let's keep this article focused on anti-virus software.
Anti-virus software is a misnomer. It's flawed by design. The very idea that a single software suite can effectively protect a user from all viruses is ridiculous. It's ridiculous for many reasons. Let's begin with the most obvious flaw in this designation-- all anti-virus software uses some sort of virus "definitions" to combat viruses. To me, this is the most obvious clue that anti-virus software is a scam.
So, a programmer intends to defend your system from viruses by cataloguing all the viruses that have ever been discovered. And-- that's it? That seems like a simple obstacle to overcome. So every time I write a hundred new viruses and unleash them on the internet, I can infect any computers that have anti-virus software installed. Right? :D
Duh. Want me to *really* give you the heebie-jeebies?? Once I've infected your system, I (or a bot) can install measures to overcome supposed anti-virus software from then on. There's very little anti-virus developers can do about it for one simple reason-- they have no idea how my software works. Every time your silly, little anti-virus suite stalls your system to download new definitions, remember this simple fact.
But, let's go one step further-- How about anti-virus software that can "detect" new threats? Ah. So, all I have to do is download free trials of some common anti-virus suites, do some testing, and develop viruses none of the detection systems can detect? Sounds like child's play. When should I get started? But, enough about virus detection. I'd say I've adequately demonstrated how simple it is to pwn a simple minded anti-virus developer's precious software package. Let's talk about the software itself.
A good starting place is the quality of anti-virus software. Or as I've experienced with every anti-virus suite, the lack thereof. Let's just look at the graphics. They look like shit. Anti-virus developers intentionally add shiny graphics to their software-- ugly balloons that pop up and interrupt a user; dialogs with no window borders that warn of "potential threats"; hideous color schemes that don't match the themes of a user's API.
Wanna know why? Because, the developers that wrote the software are idiots. Because, they enjoy deploying untested themes, color schemes, and interruptions at the expense of-- *your* computer system. They love stuffing your RAM chips full of unnecessary frills in order to make their shitty software look, like way neato-- or whatever! xD Because, they spent weeks on end developing a theme instead of designing software that might actually protect your system.
To be clear, frills are the trademark of poor development. Any developer who would go to the trouble of developing a brand new look for your system when your system already has a look is essentially reinventing the wheel. But let's not forget-- they're unloading a brand new theme on top of the one you're already running. This requires additional resources an anti-virus scanner does not need in any way! Do you see why this is a bad idea? Yeah-- good developers try not to give programs features they don't need. That's basic programming.
Ever notice how poorly your system runs after you install anti-virus software? Well-- the added graphics are part of the problem. But, that's not the whole story. At some point or another, all developers design what are traditionally referred to as "daemons" (pronounced "demons"). Microsoft decided they would be cute when they developed the Windows API. They referred to a daemon by another name, a "process" or a "child". But, a daemon is always the same thing.
A daemon is a program that runs in parallel with other programs. Or as some people say, "it runs in the background". What does a daemon do? It runs a loop. It continues running a loop until it encounters a specific condition. When it's triggered by a condition, it either executes additional instructions, or it stops executing the loop and unloads (terminates). Typically, a daemon starts running when an operating system boots (usually with a special program called a "kernel") and executes a primary loop until the operating system is halted.
As you can imagine, a daemon puts a heavy load on a computer system. And, that they do. However, a well written daemon checks a single value or a handful of values periodically. But when they are not checking a value, they use a special function of a high end processor-- that allows the daemon to sleep. A well written daemon will spend more time sleeping than it does checking a status. This minimizes the load a daemon adds to a running system.
All operating systems deploy daemons when they boot. Most of the ones that are part of the main system are well written and extensively tested. Anti-virus software adds daemons to an operating system. But unlike well written, extensively tested daemons that ship with operating systems, daemons included with anti-virus suites are poorly designed and largely untested.
And to me, that's the worst feature of anti-virus software-- the daemons. What's worse, most daemons anti-virus suites add to an operating system are completely unnecessary. At most, anti-virus suites only need one main daemon to watch for threats-- maybe two. When I encounter systems that are running Norton or McAfee (two suites that are notorious for weighing down operating systems with unnecessary bloat), I always check the system for running daemons (ex: a program called "Task Manager" will show running "processes" on Windows systems). It's not unusual for Norton and McAfee suites to run 7+ daemons to watch a system. I can usually unload them and get a system performing like normal again. It's really sad. :(
So to conclude this article, is anti-virus software worth the hype? Is it worth paying annual licensing fees, being interrupted to download virus definitions (that are easy to overcome), and reducing the performance of an operating system by 75-90% (to run unnecessary daemons)? Does your anti-virus software make you feel safe? Do you feel safe driving your family down a highway at seventy miles per hour in a car without checking the air pressure in the tires? Wanna feel safer when you use your computer? Anti-virus software is not the answer. If you want to take care of your car, you have to check the fluids (ex: the engine oil), the tires, the brakes, etc. And if you want to take care of your computer system, you're going to have to learn what it is and how it works. You can't just pay other people to do it for you. You'll probably get ripped off.
html revised 11-09-2019 by Michael Atkins.
The maintainer of insanely