Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Antiviruses: when the cure is worse than the disease

In the morning, my antivirus software suddenly told me that my main defragmenter is a virus.

Just to be specific: I have used the German AVIRA software (web) with the red umbrella icon for over 15 years. It's probably not the most patriotic thing to do because Czechia has turned into an antivirus superpower largely thanks to Avast which recently devoured its competitor AVG (for $1.3 bn) and the company's headquarters stayed in Prague. Avast actually has more employees than Avira etc. Avast was founded as a communist-era co-op in 1988, AVIRA is two years older. Almost all people on the Avast board are non-Czech today, however.

I think that AVIRA does a good job and I've seen some reports that it's among the antiviruses that don't slow down the PC too much.

The other part of the story is that I believe that fragmentation of files slows down PC and I am running a defragmentation periodically. I've tried many but Auslogics Disk Defrag Free seems like the best choice on the market – it's much faster than most others and it visualizes things appropriately and gives you all the information about the fragmented files, the number of fragments, and other things.

Well, a new problem arose in the morning. AVIRA thinks that Auslogics is a virus of a sort. I've tried to restore the 5 files (from Disk Defrag and from Registry Cleaner) repeatedly but they were always detected again and moved to the quarantine after a while. At some moment, I was decided to give up Auslogics products. Can I live without them? So I checked the Microsoft built-in defragmenter and some others I had, like Ultradefrag. But they were so damn slow.

So I decided I don't really want to live without Auslogics. Two attempts were needed to correctly enter the five exceptions – files that should be tolerated – to AVIRA. (When I did it for the first time, there was only one box for the list of exceptions and the entries didn't have any impact. Second time, there was a list of processes and files, and the files exception list did work.) And AVIRA no longer beeps.

Before that, I was reasonably sure that the Auslogics products aren't really viruses according to my judgement and the AVIRA beeping and erasure is frivolous. It wasn't hard to see that some other antiviruses also label the Auslogics products as PUP or PUA. The first is a "potentially unwanted program" so I suppose the latter is a "potentially unwanted application" (AVIRA name).

Auslogics products may be potentially unwanted by someone but it is much more important than they are "badly wanted" and "almost certainly wanted" by me!

The incorporation of Auslogics products to the PUP category occurred because Auslogics tries to bundle additional software with the software you want to download. A decade ago, this practice was very widespread. Don't get me wrong, it's annoying. But how much annoying it is? Well, a few versions of Auslogics applications didn't really allow you to disable the installation of the additional software. But I think that if you carefully uncheck or boxes and choose "reject" to all offers, you won't get any additional software while installing Auslogics programs. It may be a bit tough and they're obviously relying on the fact that some people won't uncheck everything correctly. But it can be done. It's straightforward.

Even if you installed the additional programs, I don't think that they are so hurtful. Many of them are rather helpful. I think that I have discovered some great programs that were "forced upon me" in this way even though I don't remember the specific examples.

AVIRA and other antivirus vendors that "promoted" Auslogics to viruses admit that they're not viruses intrinsically. They just decided to fight against imperfect business practices like bundled programs. Please, give me a break. I don't want to participate in this struggle because the programs I would lose – and the time I had to waste to add the exceptions and study everything I needed – were much more valuable than all potential "losses" I could have been defended against.

So this report "Auslogics is a PUP virus" was a clear example of a cure that is worse than the disease. The bundling is a sin but from my perspective, it is a wildly smaller cost than the benefits of services that Auslogics has been doing for me.

And I can't hide the results of my additional thinking. I think that this elimination of Auslogics products is a deliberate and nasty ploy by AVIRA – and a few other producers of antiviruses – to fight against Auslogics which happens to be their competitor due to the Auslogics Anti-Malware 2017. I don't know whether this program is any good but if I had to make a bet on whether Auslogics is being targeted at least partly because it produces this program, well I would bet on Yes.

So I think that AVIRA and others are just pretending to be morally superior but they are really messing with your computer while fighting against their competition and protecting mainly their egotist interests.

Needless to say, I am far from the first person who indicates that viruses may be a cure that is worse than the disease. See random texts from 2008, 2016, and many others. Some of these texts point out that antiviruses attempt to disable software that you really need, they slow down your computer, and they may even allow additional ports through which others may connect to your computer. And it's often very difficult to uninstall them – a characteristic that you expect from bad viruses, too.

This blog post isn't just a technical comment about antiviruses and defragmenters. It's really a much more general political issue because "cures that are worse than the disease" seem to be everywhere these days. In the context of Schumacher's fate, I discussed the point that people have good reasons not to wear helmets, especially while biking. The helmet was far from sufficient to save Schumacher's decent enough life.

But the "fight against climate change" is just another, much grander example of the same concept, a cure that is worse than a disease. To "protect" you and the Earth from an additional 0.01 °C or so warming caused by CO2 every year, some people want to ban fossil fuels, quintuple the price of electricity and cars (which would have to be electric), move you back to horses, shrink your offspring because smaller people eat less, and you may surely add hundreds of similar recommendations you have heard. Don't get fooled: if you only reduce the emissions by 20%, you only protect yourself from 0.002 °C of warming every year.

I am sorry but I prefer the approximate 0.01 °C of extra warming every year – by far. By an order of magnitude. There is really no contest here. If the warming caused by CO2 were 10 times faster than it is, I would still prefer to keep the cheap energy and other aspects of the civilization. There can be no doubt about it. In a world in 2070 that is 5 °C warmer, the thinking could be different but we don't live in that world.

Antivirus software may ask you about many things, you may turn on or turn off various parts of the protection but it's sometimes complicated. A single button that would allow you to say whether you are a fan of the "regulation at any cost" would probably be more useful. I would like AVIRA to click at "No, I don't want to help you in your jihad against competitors or for the complete eradication of bundled software and things like that".

Too much e-mail – e.g. spam – and bundled software, among many very analogous things (and I mean even things like ads on websites or fliers thrown to your physical inbox), could have been annoying and get out of control. But the fight against them may get out of control, too. And it is arguably getting out of control. People and computers are being overprotected to the extent that many elementary things become much more difficult, less fun to do, and you often run into situations that force you to waste lots of time with completely unnecessary confusing glitches and their ad hoc solutions.

I think that lots of less experienced users would simply disable or uninstall the antivirus software completely if they ran into a similar problem.

There exist various institutions that regulate companies, including makers of software etc. But there should also exist institutions that try to fight against the fake fighters and excessive regulation that also hurts. There are lots of cases in which the justification of some regulation or extra hassle is self-evidently insufficient and some meta-regulation should regulate this unjustifiable regulation. ;-)

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