Anti-virus blues

Blue screen of deathAfter several years of trouble-free distribution, one of the Windows software packages I maintain has recently been flagged as malware by a well-known and supposedly reputable anti-virus product. The latest version of this anti-virus product won’t even allow the software to be installed: it deletes it as soon as it’s downloaded. Perhaps it has a virus? No, we checked.

The problem is that the software package isn’t on the anti-virus product’s white list. The anti-virus product in question now promises to keep out 100% of all viruses. To keep that promise it prevents access to any software that’s not on its white list, deleting it immediately and offering no user override. It doesn’t just do that with new software. The other day a colleague complained that, having loaded a well-known anti-virus product on his laptop for the first time, it immediately uninstalled most of his specialist work-related software without any confirmation.

ID-100191804I hate to say it, but I think things will only go downhill from here. Traditional PC anti-virus products are playing to a shrinking audience. PC sales volumes are in decline, and Microsoft Security Essentials is picking up increasing market share. To compete, anti-virus products will have to promise more benefits and deliver them with less resources. By resources I mean staff: developers, testers, support teams. At the same time the hackers creating malware, trojans and back door exploits are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Some anti-virus products already give software vendors the option of a paid fast track to get their products onto the white list. I expect we’ll see more of this. It’s a fresh revenue stream and lets the products justify their policies; policies which manage to be both draconian and ham-fisted at the same time.

computerdeletekey0461This situation is bad news for small to medium Windows software vendors because the anti-virus products provide no blanket coverage: every new release needs to be approved again, and approved by every anti-virus product with these policies.

If you think all this is bad enough, there’s worse.

Choking back two decades of passionate support for third party providers, I now strongly recommend Microsoft Security Essentials for all Windows users. It hurts to see Microsoft becoming the dominant provider in yet another niche market but, in this niche, the other options are even more painful.

Traditional PC anti-virus products are eating their own babies; there’s no future in having a relationship with them.