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Tech Tip of the Week: How I Keep Clean Without an Antivirus Guarding My System

By Jos · 38 replies
Sep 30, 2009
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  1. Captain828

    Captain828 TS Guru Posts: 287   +10

    Good tips, however if you read carefully what you just wrote, then it basically means you'll have a lot more stuff to do (and headaches) than with an AntiVirus solution.

    Also, you said that you've only twice encountered the 'virus problem'. But, from my experience and depending on the virus itself, once can be enough to get all your files dirty and the OS crippled. Curiously, this happened to me with a file on a USB stick I had to use.

    From me, the best solution would be to install a potent and free antivirus, lika Avira. Just google and you'll probably find only positive reviews on it.
  2. The first thing I do when setting up a new PC, with Windows or otherwise, is to use a HOSTS file that has been prepared to filter out ad servers and known malware distributors. If you search online for HOSTS file, it's one of the first sites shown (mvps.org), which shows its popularity.
    If one of these days I get a proxy server to use at home I might use that as a more elegant solution but in the meantime, it's a quick and easy setup step I recommend to regular users.
    Installing or using Windows for the first time while out of the network and installing Avast! prior to setting up internet access sounds sensible as well.
  3. LightHeart

    LightHeart TS Rookie Posts: 155

    The title is a little misleading, as in you do use an anti-virus but one that is not installed on your machine, you just do your scans online.

    Here's my basic tips:
    Firewall - built in or free 3rd party.
    OpenDNS - Can be configured how you like to restrict stuff.
    Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware - Free Avast, Avira, AVG, MSE, etc
    Patches - keep up on latest patches for the OS and applications
    Backups - Backup important data.
    Operator - Do not visit questionable sites, do not click on questionable links, think before acting.
  4. stbecker

    stbecker TS Rookie Posts: 33

    Free Online Utilities:
    TrendMicro HouseCall (http://housecall.trendmicro.com/)
    Panda Security ActiveScan (http://www.pandasoftware.com/products/activescan)
    Symantec and Norton Security Scans (http://security.symantec.com)

    Free Downloads:
    AVG and Spybot
  5. All good tips.

    Another is to use Spyware Blaster and Spybot-SD to immunize your system.
  6. Per Hansson

    Per Hansson TS Server Guru Posts: 1,946   +200

    I also do not use Antivirus programs that run 24/7
    The reason is I dislike what they do to system performance, granted this could be offset by getting a good SSD drive like the Intel X25-M

    Just like Jose I scan suspect stuff on Virustotal, and one of the bigger reasons I use no AV is that when I do find a file I want to scan, because I know it is suspect
    I usually find out that rarley over half of the antivirus vendors even detect the virus, so if I had had a 24/7 antivirus program from the "wrong" vendor then I would be toast if I clicked that file... This has happened to me several times...

    What is not taken into account is the many times that legitimate sites have been hacked, actually usually it is the advertisement networks, which results in instant infection by just visiting a site, like Asus.com had a problem with their flash ad, it was a virus and silently infected you if you just visited the site...

    Another example is Winimage, there have been a problem with their download site for a really long time, I sent them a mail letting them know but seems like they don't care
    If you click the link that takes you to their download page via google there seems to be about a 33% chanche that you are taken to one of the fake antivirus vendors pages, asking you to pay xxx$ because your system is infected, it only works in IE of course...

    And on that note, if you use a decent browser like Opera or Firefox you are much safer.
    If you use IE, really even for checking legitimate sites (maybe the reason it is not working in Opera or Firefox is because it is Virus ridden) then you need a antivirus program 100% sure!
  7. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,633   +694

    I haven't used an active anti-virus in years. They gum up the works and in many cases are worse than the virus itself. The one we use at work drives me crazy.

    Just a minimal amount of weekly preventive maintenance (using scanners like Malwarebytes, Spy-bot, etc.), and following the list that Lighthouse posted - I've only been nailed with a virus once in the last 7 years.

    The biggest deterrent is safe surfing. Don't open up suspicious e-mail attachments, don't go to suspect websites, don't use BitTorrents to steal infected music/games/software. Doesn't get much simpler than that....
  8. JDoors

    JDoors TS Rookie Posts: 62

    @Jose: "But even when I had an antivirus on duty, it only popped up to warn me twice over the span of years, so worrying about active protection has become an unnecessary burden to me."

    And I'd guess that over the years you've changed your browsing habits and, despite an increase in potential threats, are even less likely to encounter malware than ever before. I'm not ready to "go naked" yet, but I hear ya.
  9. ---agissi---

    ---agissi--- TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,977   +15

    One of the best articles yet due to the high relevance. Thank you!
  10. Jos

    Jos TechSpot Staff Topic Starter Posts: 3,073   +97

    @JDoors: Definitely. Safe browsing habits is something you acquire with time, but once you know your way around the net it's what keeps you malware-free for the most part.

    I just want to add one thing and clarify another: The first one came to my attention thanks to commenter LightHeart and is that you should always keep up to date with the latest patches for your OS and applications. That was a glaring omission on our part, so we'll add it to the list for completeness' sake.

    The second one is that credit should go to Matthew for coming up with the topic and guidelines; I just helped editing and added a thing or two so it was "ready for consumption" ;)
  11. Julio Franco

    Julio Franco TechSpot Editor Posts: 7,413   +809

    @Per & JDoors: The article author is not Jose but Matt DeCarlo. Jose acted as editor for this tech tip.

    As for working with/without an antivirus, my approach is not as radical as I keep one antivirus app installed on my machine but I turn off active protection. Following very similar guidelines to the ones described in the article, I keep my machine clean while still having one-click access to a local AV in case I want to scan any suspecting files.
  12. Ok, nice article, but I have to say it..

    The last couple of years, there's been an increase in virii (viruses? what was the last consensus on that issue?) that use USB memory sticks for propagation.

    While safe browsing habits will protect you from maybe 95% of the malware out there, there are little options for USB-stick protection.

    So.. you've had no need for an antivirus in the last years? That speaks very well of your teammates. I for one, have quite a few not-too-responsible coworkers. As soon as I plug the USB stick to my machine, my AV will check for the usual suspects.

    I've seen 2 pieces of malware in USB sticks this week alone.

    If you still can't/don't want to pay for a full featured AV, go for one of the free alternatives. You'll see three kind of free AVs:
    - Nagging free versions of the full product.
    - Feature-limited versions, but otherwise nag-free.
    - Developed by enthusiasts. Not top-of-the-line, but usually nag-free.

    And please:
    - Disable autorun for ALL media.

  13. Is this on a admin or limited user accounted system? You might better have advised "Disconnect your computer from the internet, and don't ever connect again". There are no guaranteed safe sites.
  14. davidm71

    davidm71 TS Rookie

    The author does not live in the real world. I think in the workplace its criminal not to have an antivirus program running to protect your system from some employee opening up some infected email or something. Its like giving advice on how not to get an std by not having sex.
  15. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,313   +100

    In fairness, this article is targeting a minority of home users, not those in "the workplace." I'm not sure why you've taken it that way.

    I do not see the relevance of your analogy, sorry.

    I am very much alive in the real world -- and I have indeed kept virus free for an extended period of time. Judging by some other comments, it seems I'm not alone in my practice, either. Thanks for the feedback.
  16. I am glad someone has finally spoken up about this ... personally i havnt ever really bothered with anti virus software etc.

    they key is to be a bit smart about where u browse and what u do.

    i always keep my browser up to date n thats about it. infact up until windows 7 beta came out i had been using a dodgy version of winXP (i dont condone this btw) which i think had SP2 installed (at best) but no other updates etc and i never had any problems! if i did ever suspect something was up i would either check it out or do a clean format of the main drive, which was likely due anyhow!

    my main theory has always been the more u worry about it the more it is likely to happen! I know ppl who scan everything, and i mean EVERYTHING, and they still get infected! I dont scan a thing and im fine! ... *touches wood*

    good article :)
  17. Or, yknow, you could use Linux for your browsing and downloading and general use and not worry about AV altogether.

    However, when I was a WinLol user, I pretty much did this. Didn't click suspicious stuff, used NoScript to filter out the crud, and opened up Avira whenever I felt like it was time for a scan. Never got a virus, ever. And I do live in the real world c: . In fact, I still have a Windows XP SP1 machine that I've used for four years without a single virus related hiccup. No updates installed since the day I reformatted the old copy of XP and started new (in SP1).
  18. waqasr

    waqasr TS Rookie Posts: 20

    Been computing since 1997 and never installed an AV. Never had an issue either. IMO the AV software is too intrusive & also makes the system slow, I use Process Guard for keeping a tab on all the processes running. Also have Ghost which keeps my windows registry secured/Locked.
    I use FireFox with NOSCRIPT and i never execute a file with out first checking it with "COUPLE" of online scanners. I am careful with my surfing and I almost never accept a file from any one.
  19. yukka

    yukka TechSpot Paladin Posts: 855   +64

    I have an i7. Performance isn't a problem so I run 24/7 antivirus
  20. waqasr

    waqasr TS Rookie Posts: 20

    I have Core i7 as well now but I was talking about since I started using computers (1997). If you read all the comments and my last comment, you will know that performance is not the only reason why some people stopped using AV 24/7.
    There are other and better ways of making your PC more secure and stable then just relying on AV and leaving it on 24/7 thinking you’re safe.
    I have managed to survive with out AV so far and I don't think I will ever install one.
  21. I absolutely refuse to use any antivirus OR software firewall. (however my router does have a firewall)

    They are TOTALLY unnecessary and a complete CON.

    Why spend money slowing down my PC, when all you have to do is exercise common sense.

    I have had a PC for 15 years, and the only time I had a virus was when Norton uploaded one to me via an update.
  22. Antivirus programs don't just prevent, they diagnose. How do you know you don't have something very quiet?
  23. yukka

    yukka TechSpot Paladin Posts: 855   +64

    I wasn't being specific to any one person when I said what I said. I have always run antivirus software. I used the windows built in firewall and safe browsing habits and antivirus software mean I feel quite safe knowing that if I get a trojan or something that want to fire my information into the ether, I will get a warning and be able to react.

    I think its quite unrealistic and maybe even irresponsible to tell people they dont need antivirus. I do not think people need norton or mcafee but I do know that there are plenty of good free solutions out there that dont slow the machine to a crawl.

    The days of 4mb graphics cards and turning off antivirus to increase the framerate in quake are over. Multicore, ram to burn and raid. And keep everything safe with a good AV program to diagnose bad stuff. You only need to get unlucky once and you won't know about it but all your details might be in the possesion of randoms. No thanks seriously, no matter how safe you are. Its like driving third party on my car insurance - I know I dont usually cause accidents and I drive safely but if I get unlucky and hit something I will have to pay for everything out of my own pocket. Screw that - I would rather go fully comprehensive and save the worry.
  24. Or just use a Mac.

    But seriously, I use Windows daily, have 5 Windows machines at home (mostly for games), and one at work. I haven't used an anti-virus solution at home since before I first bought a Winders machine over 12 years ago (I used to use Disinfectant on my old Macs). I've had ONE infected machine in that time, and it was due to hooking up an un-patched Windows 2000 system directly to a cable network, and before I could even patch it had been owned like nobody's business (I was in the process of moving, so didn't have my NAT box or anything else handy).

    I don't use an OS-based firewall either. It's useful for most people, though, if it checks outgoing connections, but for me it's pretty useless.

    I also download plenty of skankware, unauthorized patches (wink, wink), and go to some of the worst sites ever.

    The only guidelines I use are:

    1. Don't use IE, use Firefox or at the least anything else.
    2. Don't EVER run any program, screen saver, script, etc, that you don't know for SURE is virus free (if it didn't come from you, you don't know). If in doubt, send it to yourself in an e-mail through yahoo, google, or one of the other free services, as it'll scan it for you.
    3. Stay patched. All OSes have security advisories. All of them need patches, period.
    4. Be NAT'ed. Inbound firewall rules are pretty useless if nobody can initiate an inbound connection.

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