Running without a virus scanner
May 23, 2009, 12:09 GMT
Washington - First things first: you should have some kind of antivirus protection on your PC, especially if you surf the internet or trade files with anyone. There are plenty of people, though, who hate antivirus programs - and with good reason. Most of them are resource hogs, slowing down your computer; many of them throw up more false positive warnings than legitimate ones, slowing down your work and annoying you in the process. These days, most are leased on a yearly basis, meaning you must pay up every year in order to keep your antivirus signatures current.
All of that adds up to some pretty painful medicine to have to swallow to potentially rid your PC of some malicious software. Can you possibly just say 'no' to antivirus software? The short answer is, 'yes, you can.' But to remain virus and spyware free, you'll need to adopt some precautions - and stick with them.
--- Use clean software
An antivirus-free computer should start and stop with legitimate, clean software. That means eschewing copies of programs that can be downloaded through warez sites or on newsgroups, borrowed from friends through file sharing, or found on shareware and freeware sites. Remember that being without an antivirus program often means living without on-demand scanning, so a file you download online isn't as easy to check for viruses as it would be if you had an antivirus program installed. Still, plenty of people can and do assemble systems solely with commercial, off-the-shelf applications, and you can, too.
--- Scan your PC remotely
If you have more than one PC, you can install antivirus software on one while leaving the other machine without antivirus software. If the two machines can see each other over a network - home or office - then you should be able to map the drives of one computer onto the one with antivirus software installed and check individual files or entire drives through your network connection.
Or you could take advantage of free online virus and spyware scanning tools. Trend Micro's House Call (http://housecall.trendmicro.com) and Eset's Online Scan (http://www.eset.com/onlinescan) will perform a scan of your computer right from the internet. Such scans might not remove any viruses or spyware found, but they will at least tell you how clean your computer is.
--- Use built-in protections
Antivirus protection might not yet be a built-in feature of Windows and other operating systems, but security has long been of concern to everyone who uses computers, and the result is that you'll find some malware protection already built in to the computer you're currently using.
Before your computer even loads your operating system, it launches the code found in your system's BIOS (basic input-output system), which initiates the hardware in your PC and enables your operating system to identify the components you have. Within the BIOS of most PCs - accessible by pressing F2 or Del during bootup - is an optional boot sector protection mechanism. Enable this, and you'll protect against boot sector viruses without ever installing a single antivirus tool.
From within your operating system, there are tools you can use to help ward off evil software, too. All browsers today, for instance, provide some security tools, including anti-phishing filters or lists of websites that are known carriers of harmful software. Use these features - they won't slow you down.
In addition, there are free tools available that are less obtrusive than most antivirus packages. Microsoft provides Windows Defender for free on Windows Vista, and it's available as a free download for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Windows Defender's focus is on spyware, which can be among the most dangerous types of malicious software, since its primary purpose is to track what you do and, in some cases, steal personal information.
--- Watch those websites
Common sense will go a long way toward keeping your computer safe if you don't use antivirus software. Stay away from sites that are frequent carriers of spyware. These include, ironically, many sites that purportedly sell anti-spyware software. A list of such sites is at the Spyware Warrior Rogue/Suspect Web Sites page (http://www.spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti-spyware.htm#sites). Porn and gaming sites are also to be approached warily if you have no spyware or antivirus protection.
--- E-mail with care
Delete any e-mail message from an unknown source if it contains an attachment. The majority of malware contracted through e-mail comes in the form of attachments that the sender tries to get the recipient to open. Just say no. The large majority of viruses are contracted from unsolicited e-mail, so use an e-mail application with a built-in spam checker, if at all possible. Sometimes viruses are carried in Word documents from friends or colleagues who are not aware that the files are protected. In such cases, without an onboard antivirus tool, it makes sense to run the file through one of the free online scanners mentioned earlier. Do this before you open the file.
The payoff for all of this caution should be well-known to anyone who has watched with chagrin as an otherwise speedy and trouble-free computer was made to feel like yesterday's technology after the latest bloated antivirus software was installed. Less really is more, if you can get away with it. And for those intrepid computer users with a survival plan, doing without antivirus protection can be a giant step in the right direction.