McAfee & SMTP, and are Virus Checkers the worst form of Virus?

Yesterday I was asked, "the application isn’t sending out emails, what is wrong?" The simple answer was, "you’ve installed McAfee Antivirus". The default installation this AV is to block the SMTP port, nice.

I’d like someone to do an impartial review of modern "protection" software. I recently read a review in MacUser about the hype of threats and I’m beginning to come around to their point of view. It’s not that I don’t see the value of such monitors but in my experience this particular tool seems almost as bad as the threats it reports to stop, I’ll explain why. What is the threat of a virus? Well there are many privacy related issues but for a modern company behind a hardware firewall I believe the two main risks are; Trojans and denial of service (DoS), both often resulting in a large amount of downtime to repair.  A Trojan is a risk as it could send important details to a basic HTTP site and could be very damaging, so I want my OS/Virus checker to stop things changing/installing executables (DLLs, scripts, et al) without my permission. DoS – where naughty software is doing something for its own gain (spamming) or just bringing a system to its knees for "fun". For DoS I want my OS/Virus checker to stop things changing/installing executables (DLLs, scripts, et al) without my permission, sounds familiar. Modern virus checkers do this so what is my issue? I wouldn’t have one if that is all they did. No they go the extra mile, they turn off useful ports (see SMTP above) without asking me, they inject script to help ensure scripts I run are ok (and those scripts then cause failures), they double check every file that is read (yes read as well as write). Not only that but one version (the one with lots of yellow) they can install loads of odd software and services I didn’t and don’t want – but can I get rid of the sub parts, nope.  Essentially the modern Virus Checker is one of the slickest DoS and Trojan installer you’re willing buy and install. DoS from a virus checker is no laughing matter. I regularly compile large projects and you can easily see the significant difference in speed with the checker on and off. So if I was to add up all the time lost in these minor DoS attacks from the checker against the number of infections * time to rebuild PC/PCs infected I wonder which would be worse? Now it doesn’t have to be as black/white as that. As I’ve said, if my checker simply attempted to stop nasty code getting on my machine then I’m pretty certain I would have a machine that does its day-to-day tasks efficiently with a very small chance of having nasty code installed.

I guess the moral of this story is choose your AV software carefully, consider what you deem to be an acceptable threat and learn the mantra, "options exclusion is your friend, options exclusion is your friend".

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