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August 2006 Special Edition - Vol. 6, Issue No. 84

By Scot Finnie

In This Special Edition

  • Important Addendum About F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006
  • Revised WGA Explanation and Instructions
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    Important Addendum About F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006
    I take my computer product recommendations very seriously. Since the newsletter was mailed last Wednesday, I've heard from three newsletter readers who had trouble installing F-Secure. While I've installed the product on several computers over a dozen times — without issue — that's a very small sample size. And the early returns are that some people are having significant trouble.

    Two of those readers reported very serious problems with their F-Secure installations. And one of them had to bring his computer into a repair shop. In talking to those readers and F-Secure, some aspects of the product have emerged that you should be aware of right away.

    According to F-Secure, any attempt to install F-Secure on a Windows computer that has *any* other antivirus product already installed on it will result in potentially severe disruption on the computer. Actually, this is common knowledge, and I've for many years recommended running only one AV product on any computer. In fact, I recommend running only one anti-spyware real-time monitor, one firewall, and one antivirus product at a time. So I agree with F-Secure on this point.

    The part that is troublesome is how severely F-Secure reacts to the presence of a previous antivirus product, including such symptoms as Windows won't boot or it goes into an endless loop of spontaneous reboots. It's true that F-Secure offers system-boot protection. Not every product offers its degree of system-boot protection. I count that as a good thing. But I think that makers of a product that is this sensitive to the presence of similar utilities have a responsibility to go the extra mile to both detect a lot more potential conflicts before installation and communicate with the user in clear terms about double-checking for the presence of potential conflicts.

    F-Secure does detect several well known antivirus products. One SFNL reader got into a problem with F-Secure's handling of AVG's uninstallation. Some of this is my fault. I wrote in my review that AVG was uninstalled perfectly by the F-Secure installation process on my computer. And it was. But I often test things that I don't recommend because I know people don't read every word I write, and I'm on the lookout for trouble you might get into on my say-so. But I do not and never have recommended allowing one program to automatically uninstall another. And I should have made that point clear. It is always better to cancel the installation of the second program, uninstall the earlier program yourself, and then restart the second program's installation.

    As you might imagine, I am not happy about all this. I've just named a product the Best Antivirus Product of 2006, and people are getting into trouble with it. Not good. On the other hand, it would appear that F-Secure will help any of my readers who get into trouble. So, please, if you've had issues, send me email about it.

    If enough people report in a detailed way about problems resulting from F-Secure, I may have to change my recommendation. But the more important aspect to me is to get people help for problems they may have encountered.

    One thing that's clear to me, several emails have also been from people who are liking F-Secure, and both Cyndy and I continue to use and like it. So this is by no means a universal thing. I still believe, if properly handled, it's the best antivirus product at the present time given the limitations of its closest competitors.

    ZoneAlarm Problems
    ZoneAlarm seems to be a common interaction problem with F-Secure. Remember, several of ZA's different package levels include an antivirus module originally supplied by Computer Associates. If you're running one of those packages, you would have to remove it as well before installing F-Secure.

    It's not just F-Secure either. Reader Darryl Phillips wrote to me recently that he had trouble with his purchased copy of ZoneAlarm conflicting with his Nvidia graphics driver, and the result was that ZoneAlarm's antivirus component stopped performing email scans.

    When I tested ZoneAlarm + Antivirus recently, I found that it was causing problems on my network right away. That's a problem that I know many other people have complained about ZoneAlarm over the years. Things you add to the trusted zone don't stick, or stop being properly trusted. while some people don't have the problem, others know exactly what I'm talking about. More than that, however, I found that this combination of ZoneAlarm and its antivirus product exhibited a strong system-resource drain and was having a noticeable impact on my system performance.

    I've begun research on software firewalls for an upcoming issue of the newsletter. I am currently testing light software firewalls to go along with F-Secure and/or Nod32. One of the things I want to pass along to you at this time is that I have removed the entire line of Zone Labs/Checkpoint's ZoneAlarm products from my recommended list. I stopped using the product over three years ago when I switched to using a firewall router with lightweight software firewall protection on each PC. Having looked at it again recently, I'm giving it a strong thumbs down.

    I don't have solid results to share with you yet about software firewalls. And it may be some time before I do. But let me pass along this information: Sunbelt Software's Kerio Personal Firewall 4.3.x is making a very good first impression on me right now. It works very well with F-Secure (although I've turned off Kerio's Web-checking features). Kerio reminds me quite a bit of the early ZoneAlarm product, back when it didn't try to do too many things. And yet it has some power features. The paid version of Kerio even offers host-based intrusion prevention. I'm using it in Advanced mode, not Standard mode. I haven't tested it fully yet. But compared to ZoneAlarm, it's a much better product right now.

    For more information about Kerio, check out the Kerio product page.

    If you want to make software firewall recommendations to me, feel free. But remember, my primary concern is lightweight protection, firewall and intrusion protection only, low system overhead, and it must co-exist well, and not make it a nightmare to manage your network.

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    Revised WGA Explanation and Instructions
    Last Updated: September 3, 2006

    I've significantly revised the WGA story from last week's newsletter. The most revised area is my explanation of what WGA is, based on new information from Microsoft and other sources. However, I have also mildly revised the instructions for removing WGA, steering you around any potential removal of WGA Validation, to keep the focus on WGA Notifications. Finally, in the Preventing Recurrences section there was an error that directed you to click "Cancel" on one screen when you should instead click "Close." Please refer to the website version of this story from now on. The version in your mailbox is out of date.

  • Windows Genuine Advantage: What It Is and How to Remove It

    Important: For those of you who have already carried out the earlier WGA-removal instructions, you temporarily deleted some aspects of WGA Validation. Strangely, Microsoft's Knowledgebase instructions disable both WGA Notifications and WGA Validation. WGA Validation is an earlier component of WGA that is required to use Windows Update, Microsoft Update, and to download some software from Microsoft Web pages. Microsoft instituted WGA Validation (which initially called just "WGA") in July of 2005. Without WGA Validation, you won't be able to download anything at all from Windows Update or Microsoft Update without reinstalling WGA Validation. (Note: Automatic Updates is wholly unaffected by this.)

    That's the bad news. The good news is that any attempt to use Windows Update or Microsoft Update will automatically initiate the process of reinstalling WGA Validation, which takes only a few minutes. Even though I do not agree with Microsoft's insistence on running an anti-piracy measure on all user PCs, at this time I recommend that you allow WGA Validation to install. It is possible to uninstall it from Windows XP at a later time.

    My work on WGA is a work in progress, since Microsoft is treating WGA as a work in progress. The large WGA story written in the main August 2006 issue of Scot's Newsletter has been updated several times to reflect things I've learned. You should be using the website version, not the version in your mailbox, as your reference.

    For more information about WGA Validation and WGA Notification, please see these two Microsoft KnowledgeBase articles:

  • Description of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA Validation)
  • Description of Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications

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