Technology Tips

Should I Use A Free Online Virus Scanner?

Even when you’re not looking for an online virus scanner, ads for them appear on many Web sites. Sometimes, a free virus scanner appears to pop up out of nowhere and scares you with a message like “Alert! Your PC may be infected!” What should you do? Read on…

What are free online virus scanners, are they safe, and should you be using one? An online virus scanner is a program that runs on a remote server. It can examine your computer for viruses and other malware through your web browser, just as a desktop antivirus program’s scan would do. A few online virus scanners only reports what it finds. It may not be able to quarantine any viruses or spyware, or disinfect your computer.

Also, a free online virus scanner does not continually monitor incoming and outgoing Internet traffic for threats and block attempts to install unknown software. These are features found in desktop antivirus packages. To fix any problems reported by the free online virus scanner, you often must pay for a full-blown antivirus program. Now it should be obvious why there are so many free online virus scanners out there! But many of them are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So-called “rogue online virus scanners” always find lots of malware on any computer they scan. They scare the heck out you with jittering popup windows, with warnings screaming in blinking red and yellow letters, “ALERT! WARNING! DANGER! YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED WITH MALWARE!” or “YOU NEED TO BUY OUR VIRUS REMOVAL PROGRAM RIGHT NOW! CLICK HERE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

Or something along those lines. The idea is to alarm and panic you into clicking and thus buying the software without taking time to think. But there is much to think about!

Some Safe Online Virus Scanners
Do you know anything about the company that just informed you that you have a major malware problem? Free online virus scanners are offered by well-known security software developers, such as the ones listed below; the website addresses are also shown and you should be careful that you go to these authentic sites:

Remember, free online virus scanners are typically lead-ins to purchases of commercial antivirus software that actually neutralizes the threats found. If you are a non-commercial user, you really don’t have to pay for commercial antivirus protection.

You won’t find free online virus scanners at the Web sites of AVG, Avast, and most other “free for non-commercial use” antivirus software developers. That’s because their full-blown desktop versions are available for you to download, use fully, and then buy if you are satisfied. Check out my list of free anti-virus programs here:

  • AVG – is one of the most often recommended freeware anti-virus packages. While Grisoft offers a paid version, there is a freeware version of the virus protection on the website. It only offers anti-virus and anti-spyware protection (no anti-spam, anti-rootkit or firewall) but provides very effective protection from the most common threats. The Pro version has Web Shield to screen your downloads, rootkit protection, and free support.
  • Avast! – another freebie anti-virus program with basic features, and ease of use. It is updated regularly, also highly recommended.
    The Free Home Edition includes anti-spyware and anti-rootkit detection.
  • BitDefender – is another highly rated freeware anti-virus tool. Like the others, it offers just basic anti-virus protection, and I recommended that you add anti-spyware protection as well.
  • Avira Anti-Vir – claims over 30 million users worldwide, and the free Personal Edition gets good reviews. There is a paid version with anti-spyware and firewall protection as well.
  • ClamWin AntiVirus – is a free open source antivirus program, which means it comes with the programming source code. ClamWin has a high detection rate for viruses and spyware, but does not include a real-time scanner. This means you have to rely on scheduled or manual scans to detect viruses. Normally I view open source software as a Good Thing, but in the case of security software, I wonder if it might help the Bad Guys exploit the defenses. Using it in conjunction with another anti-virus program might be a good strategy.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials is a new free security tool from Microsoft, released in October 2009. It’s meant to provide protection not just from viruses, but also spyware, rootkits, and trojans as well.

Sure, there are other free anti-virus programs I could have listed, but these are the most popular and provide the best protection, according to my research. And since I noted that most of the programs above do not include spyware protection, let me mention that I recommend the free Windows Defender from Microsoft. Windows Defender protects you from spyware, pop-ups, other security threats. It features real-time protection, so it can warn you if something you’re downloading is spyware, and also automatically updates itself with new spyware definitions.

Note that if you’re using the new Microsoft Security Essentials, you don’t also need Windows Defender, because MSE includes that functionality. But if you have any other antivirus tool, I still recommend that you add spyware protection, and Defender is a good choice.

Free online virus scanners are safe and effective if you stick to known brands. You must also carefully check the website address before running any online virus scanner. It may look like a well-known brand’s page, but one character’s difference in the URL can mean that you’re about to download a virus instead of its cure. In general, if a virus scanner finds YOU before you find IT, it’s probably best to back away. And if you already have a good desktop anti-virus program, use an online scanner only if you feel you need a second opinion.

ICANN To Add New Top Level Domains

On Monday June 20th, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to allow a whole new array of TLD’s (Top Level Domains).

So, what does that mean?
The change means that the familiar “.com,” “.org” and “.net” will be getting a lot more company in the next year or so.  Here’s a breakdown of the vote that ICANN chairman Peter Dengate said “will usher in a new Internet age.”

What did they change?
Right now, there are a limited number — 22, to be precise — of what’s called “generic top-level domains.” The most familiar ones are “com,” “org,” “info,” “edu” and “net.” Under the new rule, people will be able to apply to ICANN to register most any word, in any language, as their domain ending.

So, I can set up my own domain?
That depends. Are you rich? Are you an established corporation or government? If the answer to any of the above is “no,” then probably not. ICANN will be charging at least $185,000 per domain application (more in the case of buyers who want one all to themselves). So it seems pretty clear that this will largely be for corporations, and maybe some governments.  It also will cost money to set up and maintain the domain, so something like .google,  .ibm  or ,coke will be a lot more likely to happen than, say, .davidsnell.

 What are the benefits?
For retailers and others, the advantage is branding. Having your own domain could lend a sense of legitimacy on the web. Because of the difficulty of getting an application through ICANN’s process, a personalized domain ending will be an authenticity watermark of sorts.

For the common Web user like you and me, the answer is a little more hazy. One early thought is that it could cut down on phishing and other online scam attempts. If you knew that only domains with your banks’ names in the suffix were legitimate, it would make it harder for scammers to trick you by steering you to a fake site.

What’s the potential downside?
For those planning to apply, there are almost sure to be some legal battles. Remember the dispute between Apple, the computer company, and Apple, the record label that was home to The Beatles? We’ll probably see more of that when more than one bidder wants exclusive use of a name.

 Some industry observers also believe the domain names could usher in a new era of cybersquatting, although companies seeking custom domain suffixes must undergo a screening process designed to weed out unscrupulous applicants.

Who’s interested?
A lot of companies, governments and the like aren’t saying for competition reasons. But there are several organizations that have announced plans to file for particular domain endings. Among them: .unicef, .paris, .nyc, .canon and .hitachi.

When will this happen?
ICANN is scheduled to begin reviewing applications early next year and says we should start seeing new domains in July 2012.

What the heck is ICANN?
It’s the nonprofit group that assigns addresses to Internet service providers. The organization was founded in 1998, has members from all over the world and is dedicated to “keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable,” according to ICANN’s website.

One of the organization’s main jobs has become assigning and overseeing domain names on the Internet. They’ve been gradually expanding the options for years, a process which has added such top-level domain names as “.biz” and “.xxx.”

Microsofts deep pockets, not innovation, spur technology.

Microsoft can be called many things but almost never an innovator of new technologies. Rather than innovate, they dip into their substantial cash coffers and simply buy the next greatest thing in technology, then make it their own.

In its largest acquisition ever and the tech world’s most massive deal in years, Microsoft Corp. is buying Internet communications company Skype Global for a staggering $8.5 billion in cash.

“The combination will extend Skype’s world-class brand and the reach of its networked platform, while enhancing Microsoft’s existing portfolio of real-time communications products and services,” the companies said in a statement.

Previously, Microsoft’s biggest buy was $6 billion for online advertising firm aQuantive in 2007.

Don’t know what Skype is? Skype’s software allows users to talk for free online using messaging, voice and video and can also connect them to a land line or mobile phone for a fee. Users will now be able to connect to Microsoft offerings such as Lync, Outlook and Xbox Live, while Skype will support devices such as Xbox and Kinect, the companies said. 

Skype is owned by an investment group led by Silver Lake, which bought the real-time voice and video company from its previous owner, eBay, in 2009 for slightly more than $2 billion. It was founded in 2003 and now has 170 million connected users who chatted for 207 billion minutes last year. 

The company will become a new division of Microsoft and will be led by its current chief executive, Tony Bates. The combination, he said, will give Skype and Microsoft the competitive heft to combat Google and the Facetime video chat function from the Apple iPhone.

In review – here a list of 10 technologies Microsoft has “made its own”

Windows Azure
First, let’s be clear. There are good things being reported about Windows Azure from third parties who have their choice of cloud providers. But let’s face it — Google and Amazon.com have been in this space so long it makes the entire Microsoft cloud concept seem old.

 Bing
Search has been around for years. Before Yahoo! and Google took over, there was Alta Vista and others. Once Google turned simple search into a massively intertwined business, Microsoft wanted in — badly. And thus was born a Microsoft ad network, enterprise search and now Bing, a fresh stab at the browser wars. 

Windows GUI
This one is almost too obvious. Bill Gates, looking for the next innovation in OSes, used Mac fundamentals as the basis of Windows 1.0. On the flip side, Gates had multitasking long before Steve Jobs!

 Internet Explorer
Netscape wowed the world with its internet browser, then branched out into other areas such as mail and collaboration. Microsoft feared the browser was to some extent a platform, and that it could disrupt the Windows franchise. Microsoft bought a browser, tweaked and bundled it with Windows 95. Despite anti-trust losses, Microsoft still won this game.

 SQL Server
Sybase in the late ’80s was a rising database star, and Sybase SQL Server ran on larger systems. Microsoft wanted to bring this kind of solid relational product to a PC-based platform, so Microsoft, Sybase and Ashton-Tate formed an alliance. The code would be ported to PC servers, and Ashton-Tate would rejigger dBase to front-end SQL Server. But dBase was so fundamentally different it couldn’t work with SQL, leaving only Sybase and Microsoft. When Windows NT arrived, Microsoft split from Sybase, but kept components that remain the basis of SQL Server today.

Stacker
Stac Electronics built a utility that doubled the capacity of your hard drive through compression. Microsoft tried to strike a deal to embed a version of Stacker within Windows, but Stac said no, so Microsoft went ahead and wrote its own data-compression tool called DoubleSpace. Unfortunately, the Microsoft version violated Stac’s patents. Can you say lawsuit? Microsoft lost, but instead of just paying Stac off the $120 million it was ordered to pay, Redmond invested in the company and paid royalties to Stac, which ultimately folded.

Virtualization
Virtualization is the hottest thing to happen to computing since Dell laptop batteries started catching fire. Microsoft was late to the market with Hyper-V and crafted a strategy very similar to VMware, with PC- and server-virtualization tools. However, through its partnership with Citrix, and Microsoft’s own Windows Server Terminal Services, Redmond is also arguably a virtualization pioneer. 
Novell became a powerhouse through network OSes that mostly supported print and file services. Microsoft saw this huge market and made a move with Windows NT. IT pros loved NetWare, but Microsoft had advantages: deep relationships with CEOs and CTOs, and the fact that NT was a true partner of the Windows client, sharing an interface and many core functions. 

Windows Sever

Microsoft Word
The WordPerfect word processor came out around 1980, and as the decade progressed it became as dominant as Lotus 1-2-3 and Ashton-Tate dBase were back in their day. Microsoft wanted an application and OS, and WordPerfect was an obvious target. Microsoft Word came in 1983, and subsequent versions promoted compatibility — even keystroke compatibility — with WordPerfect. We all know who ultimately won this war.

Xbox
The Xbox may be the hippest game console out there, but Microsoft was way late getting into the video game business. Fortunately, Microsoft has yet to be hacked like Sony and now the Wii platform

Microsoft, unfairly or not, has a reputation for taking over areas invented by others and then dedicating massive corporate resources to owning those markets. Like it or not – I don’t see this process changing anytime in the future. The good thing is that we, as consumers, are usually the winners in these battles.

Clippy’s Second Chance

He’s back! If you remember “Clippy” — that googly-eyed, annoying little paper clip that once hopped out of the corner of your computer screen to “help” with Microsoft Office tasks, occasionally tapping on your computer screen to get your attention — chances are you don’t remember him (it?) fondly. Smithsonian Magazine called Clippy one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing history. Many Office users cringed when the cartoon paper clip Continue reading

XXX address puts porn sites on the spot

It had to happen! Pornography finally has an official home on the Internet, and how governments treat this newly formed piece of digital real estate could have significant implications for everything else on the Web.

With “.xxx” finally joining the ranks of top-level domains including “.com,” “.net,” and “.edu,” years of speculation about the impact of this new Web destination will finally be put Continue reading

Has Spyware Finally Met Its Match?

If you use a computer that’s connected to the internet, you probably know just how annoying spyware can be. Not only does it slow down your computer and interrupt you with annoying popups, it can also transmit your private data to hackers and identity thief’s.

Over the years, we’ve tried and tested 100’s of programs in our efforts to rid systems of these computer parasites Continue reading

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