AVG Internet Security

At a Glance: AVG Internet Security 8.5 (2009) offers very good protection for your PC without most of the bloaty “extras” everyone seems to expect now. The new LinkScanner technology is designed to prevent visiting malicious web sites. The firewall is a bit weak and antivirus scans can be taxing to the system resources. But the product excels at finding spyware in places most packages don’t look and has a nice, clean user interface.

The Triple “E” Keys

Effective

Firewall: AVG Internet Security 2009 is a bit weak in the firewall area but still gets the job done. It’s hands off for the most part which is what you want anyway but sometimes you’ll be asked if you want to allow a program to access the Internet. This older style approach isn’t as easy as the automatic alternatives such as Norton’s.

During setup and any time later, you can choose between Standalone, Block All, and Allow All profiles. The Standalone profile leads you through a quick or thorough scan to assess programs. After that, you can, for the most part, forget about it.

Malware: Incredible. AVG Internet Security 2009 found 17 threats (all of them) including the one in the recycle bin on the first scan. It’s the best detection I’ve seen so far. But remember, all reviews are relative to the reviewer’s actual computer setup, actual threats introduced, and yes, the reviewer’s bias to some degree. Still, my experience was great.

I am very impressed at AVG’s ability to find malware in zipped and double zipped files. You can download them without complaint but as soon as you unzip them they are found and deleted or quarantined. The real time protection was good though it missed a couple of text files that should have been flagged. But the thorough scan found every trace of them.

A full scan took 1.5 hours which I hope implies that the scans are indeed very thorough and the results seem to bear that out. Since I run deep scans on my computers while I sleep anyway, I’ve never cared how long they take.

The newest component, LinkScanner, is designed to stop drive by malicious downloads and to display threat information when trying to visit dangerous sites. I’m not a fan of security suites doing this kind of thing. That might surprise you but the reason is that modern browsers already do this for you so it’s redundant. I don’t like wasting system resources on redundant tasks.

Email scanning and rootkit detection are included in the package.

AVG is probably the most popular free antivirus programs available. Of course, you’re encouraged to buy the entire Internet security suite as soon as you arrive at the web site but this marketing approach has always been profitable for software companies.

Score: Very Good

Easy

Install/Uninstall: Installation of AVG Internet Security 2009 is painless enough. There’s a question about installing a security toolbar. The toolbar is designed to assist the LinkScanner in protecting you from the boogie man when you’re browsing. Though admirable in the attempt to protect against malicious web sites, this toolbar is just another unneeded component in modern browsers that already do this. Also, it uses the Yahoo! search engine and I don’t care for that either. I’d recommend not installing it.
Uninstalling is a piece of cake with few decisions to make. There’s an uninstall survey you’re asked to take for “improving product quality”. You also have the option of removing user settings if you never plan to reinstall the package. One down side was that AVG left quite a few files lying around. I thought this was excessive but you could delete them manually.

Setup/Use: Again, easy to do. Setup is quick presents you with a nice user interface. AVG does use a lot of icons on the main screen but that didn’t bother me. Double clicking on any of the icons brings up advanced options or information. It’s all easy to understand and use. I like that one tab is devoted to scanning on demand and on a schedule. It’s easy to configure and launch a manual scan quickly.

Talking Cybersecurity in Washington

I recently participated in the Information and Infrastructure Integrity Initiative (I4) Annual Advisory Review meeting at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL). (You can tell it’s a government thing given all the acronyms…) As part of PNNL, I4’s mission is to develop “innovative and proactive science and technology to prevent and counter acts of terrorism, or malice intended to disrupt the nation’s digital infrastructures resulting in a safer and more secure digital infrastructure.” I have served on the Advisory Board since its inception and have been wholly impressed with the quality of the research work done under the guidance of Initiative Lead Deb Frincke .

By mandate, I4 is to go on that bleeding edge that most commercial efforts would never consider given the risk of failure – and this is why we love being part of the Initiative. The I4 researchers toil to define the next-gen approaches needed to thwart the constantly-evolving threats to our national security. Predictive, adaptive, high-volume complexity challenges are the main project foci; “transformational” or “contributing” technologies to enhance the cybersecurity landscape is the ultimate goal. To achieve this, the researchers identify the cutting-edge theoretical approaches and then turn to PNNL to fund the development. The theories are morphed into prototypes, and those that are proven useful are then further honed and developed to handle the scale and demands of the government networks. The Advisory Board was established to help validate those projects or research efforts that have the greatest chances of success to further enhance the integrity of our infrastructures.

This year, we reviewed efforts in predictive systems – a requisite for proactive solutions and the eventual shift from the dominant signature-based security solutions that are hindering better computing integrity today. “Adaptive” is also an overriding mandate and without revealing too much, we are feeling confident that at least one research project is a potential game changer in a most subtle way by taking another approach. Using bioinformatics to address the security problem can lead to some very powerful developments. We also spent a good amount of time pondering SCADA-related assurance initiatives. Protecting our national infrastructure goes beyond IP-based traffic; without reliable electricity, none of the former matters. The lab has Henry Huang spearheading the research here and the IEEE Magazine named Henry its Outstanding Young Engineer.

The technologies developed here for government use can eventually find their way into the commercial market. Starlight is one example – a dynamic visualization tool that we first saw in action over six years ago. PNNL has licensed this technology to Future Point Systems and while the visualization market is still relatively nascent, the ever-growing amount of data and multiple applications for visual analytics to us is a clear, steady driver for mass adoption. How useful is 3 million links on a Google search result page, really? How would an intelligence agency analyst mine 14 million records including newspaper articles, blog entries, and images to identify and track a person of interest? Many of the problems that challenge the three-letter agencies are also relevant to the rest of us. Next-gen business intelligence solutions could clearly benefit from the lab’s efforts.

It isn’t just PNNL working on cutting edge technologies that can make their way into your company or home. The Idaho National Lab, another DOE facility, has spun out a few hits of its own, most recently RFinity, a secure RFID communications technology. RFinity is an example of a product of lab research that has a high probability of commercial viability, so the founders used the “technology transfer process” to spin out of the lab, license the technologies, and raise capital to get rolling. This is being overseen and managed by IANS Faculty and now RFinity CEO Aaron Turner.

Recent efforts have been made to enhance the process of getting technologies from these labs into your hands. In particular, PNNL has Gary Morgan specifically charged with getting the I4 (and other lab) technologies into the commercial market thus potentially greatly increasing our overall security posture.

As IANS Faculty in Residence, I am excited to share my involvement in I4 with the IANS community. We look forward to advising you on the adoption of future solutions to information security problems as these technologies reach the commercial market.