Do You Really Need to Pay for Antivirus Software on Windows?

Quick Answer: No. Windows Defender offers decent protection while being free, conveniently updates via Windows Update, and is not a huge resource hog.

Long Answer:

Anti-virus software has been available for a long time. For years, people paid for virus protection via a subscription service.

Over the last 10 or so years, free anti-virus software such as Avast, Avira, Windows Defender, AVG, Malwarebytes (the free, non-premium version), etc. have taken a hold of the market. Now I have used all of the above mentioned anti-viruses. They are all pretty good (AVG, for me, ran on the slow side), but my favorite of the bunch is Windows Defender.

Now I do not have fancy charts, data sheets, graphs, etc. to show the “awesomeness” of Windows Defender. What I can tell you is I am running it on several Windows boxes without any trouble or noticeable slowdown.

None of the boxes have had a successful virus intrusion – while running Windows Defender – for the past 3+ years. False positives for me are pretty much non-existent, and I do not have to think about updating Defender, since Windows Update takes care of that automatically.


Q: What advantage would a paid anti-virus software give me that a free one won’t?

A: Pretty much just support. No guarantee of getting support with free software, but with paid software they kind of have to give support, at least if they want to stay in business.

Everything else – including anti-virus definitions (updates) – are good with both paid and free software.


Q: Are there any open source anti-virus software out there for me to use?

A: The only one I would recommend is ClamAV. However this is not a proper anti-virus solution for most people.

It has no real-time scanner, has a minimal amount of definitions (from my experience, will catch almost nothing out-of-the-box), and has no graphical user interface for you to use (yes, you will be manually editing a configuration file with a text editor), and it will catch several false positives if you are not careful.

This is not a user-friendly software solution. It is geared towards servers and server administrators to set it up properly.


Q: Do any of the mentioned anti-virus software have any back-doors, spyware code, etc. in them?

A: I really do not know, but I would never discount the possibility. The only solution that should not have any “spy” code in it would be ClamAV, but as mentioned before, ClamAV is very non user-friendly and will cause headaches to people who do not know what they are doing.

Unfortunately all the good free anti-virus software is closed-source. I can understand this, because no company wants their trade-secrets exposed to the entire world. This would not be good for business!

Also – just a quick note – I personally would avoid the Kaspersky anti-virus software. They are based in Russia, and I would not trust any Russian software on my computer. I have nothing against the Russian people themselves, I just don’t trust their government not to spy on me. Just a thought.


Posted in Computers, Internet and Servers, Operating Systems, Security, Software

What Incognito Mode Can and Cannot Protect

A couple weeks ago, someone online posted a comment saying you can stay “safe and secure” online due to using the web browser’s incognito mode.

Is this true. Does incognito mode really prevent someone from ever tracking you online?

Short answer: no

Long answer:

People believe the myth that the incognito mode – on your web browser – will keep you safe and private. However this is not the case.

Incognito mode only does the following:

  • prevents web history from being logged locally
  • prevents download history from being logged locally
  • prevents cookies & cache data from being stored locally

In other words, incognito mode will prevent someone from spying on you, just by opening the web browser and viewing the web history and downloads.

Now what does incognito mode not protect against?

  • Malware on the system — Any malware on the system will be totally unaffected by your use of incognito mode.
  • IT department — Your IT department will still be able to track your Internet usage on their network. This is especially true if you use their local DNS resolvers. They will know what websites you visit, regardless of your use of incognito mode.
  • Internet Service Provider — Unless you make use of a VPN service, your ISP will definitely know where you go online, regardless of your use of incognito mode.
  • Government surveillance — Of course, incognito mode will be of no use to you here. Also, even using a VPN will not help much if you are being targeted by a government.

The link below helps prove that any browser being in “private” or “incognito” mode (whatever you want to call it) does nothing to prevent 3rd parties from spying on you.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alphabet-google-privacy-lawsuit-idUSKBN23933H


Posted in Computers, Internet and Servers, Security, Software, VPN

Should I Use Another DNS Server?

Should I switch my current DNS server?

If you are just a regular Internet user (not self-hosting anything), and you are currently using your ISP’s DNS server, I would switch to a 3rd party DNS service (e.g. Cloudflare).

However if you are self-hosting anything (e.g. email), then I would opt for running my own DNS resolver for reliability.


Here are my opinions on the three typical ways to get DNS.

ISP DNS Resolver:  usually ok performance / no privacy

  • Works out-of-the-box with your Internet service.
  • Since you are using servers they control, always assume your ISP is logging your DNS requests (no privacy).
  • Sometimes an ISP actually has worse DNS servers (slower, less secure) than a 3rd party DNS service.
  • Many years ago, I made use of my ISP’s DNS resolving services. They would occasionally go down – every few months. It made it look like the Internet was “down”, but it was just their DNS resolvers that were down.

Third-Party DNS Resolver (e.g. Cloudflare, OpenDNS):  good-to-excellent performance / potentially less private

  • 3rd party DNS server may be logging your DNS lookups, regardless of what their Privacy Policy says.
  • Can be faster than your ISP’s DNS resolvers. This is due to 3rd party DNS services having a very large network infrastructure. They can handle large amounts of traffic with ease.
  • Cloudflare does support DNS-over-TLS. However this is just encrypting your connection to Cloudflare. When Cloudflare retrieves the DNS records for you – assuming they do not have a cached copy – that connection of theirs is unencrypted. This means the DNS records Cloudflare gets for you can be manipulated by a 3rd party, outside of Cloudflare’s control.
  • Any server hosting a website using SNI (Server Name Identification) – without using the TLS 1.3 protocol – will give the domain name you are accessing in plain-text for anyone to see. This defeats the purpose of using an encrypted DNS service.
  • Can help get around DNS blacklists your ISP may have implemented.
  • Unless you are using a VPN service, your ISP will still have to route your connection to the website. This may give away where you are going on the Internet, even if your ISP cannot read your DNS queries.

Self-Hosted DNS Resolver (e.g. Unbound DNS):  ok-to-good performance / potentially more private

  • Useful if you want to have reliable lookups, since your are cutting out the middle-man handling your DNS requests.
  • If you are self-hosting web services (e.g. web and email), it is recommended to run your own DNS resolver. While not necessary, this will help prevent interruptions to your services.
  • While there is no worry about the DNS server keeping logs (you are running it, after all), there still is the possibility of your ISP and/or other entities sniffing your DNS lookups and keeping a log that way. This is because DNS is inherently insecure (not encrypted).
  • Unbound runs on FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, MacOS, Linux and Microsoft Windows.
  • Unbound DNS does require some knowledge of DNS to be setup properly.

Posted in Computers, Internet and Servers, Operating Systems, Security

Are Web Browser Extensions Safe to Use?

Many people use web browser add-ons (such as Ad-blockers) for their everyday browsing. What most people are unaware of is that many of these add-ons have permissions that allow the add-on to view the content of the web pages the user is viewing.

The problem? If someone has installed a malicious add-on, their web browsing data (e.g. browsing history, password credentials, what they type into a website, etc.) would have been sent to the add-on’s creator. Now I am not implying that every single web browser add-on does this, but there is a very high potential that this can happen.

Would only using open-source browser add-ons be a safe option? Well open-source add-ons would definitely lower the chance that someone would get away with spying on you. However open-source projects do not have a spotless security track record either. There is still some risk.

Even Mozilla themselves warn about this problem with web browser add-ons (also called extensions).

Here is an example of what I am talking about (https://www.zdnet.com/article/mozilla-removes-avast-and-avg-extensions-from-add-on-portal-over-snooping-claims/).


Posted in Android, Computers, General, Internet and Servers, Security, Software