Sunday, May 17, 2009

Antivirus companies cause a big headache to small developers.

Antivirus is essential tool that most people need to protect their Windows operating system from Viruses, Trojans, and other bad stuff.

Unfortunately, most Antivirus companies goes too far with their Virus/Trojan protection, and in many times they classify completely legit software as Virus/Trojan infection.
One good example for that is my own password recovery tools: Most people need these tools to recover their own lost password. These password tools, like many other utilities out there, can also be used by hackers for bad purposes.
The attitude of many Antivirus companies is very tough in this subject -
If it's a tool that can be used by bad guys, it's classified as Trojan or Virus, even when most users need it and use it for good purposes. Antivirus companies don't care that they block their own customers that want to recover their own passwords, and they don't care that they may cause their customer to think that I'm a Virus distributer.
I must say that some Antivirus companies are a little more gentle, and classify these tools as "Security Threat" or "Riskware" which is much better than classifying them as Virus or Trojan, but they still prevent the user from running them - by deleting them or by putting them in quarantine.
Also, many users don't know what is difference between Virus and Riskware, and when they get these "Riskware" alerts, they still think that my tools are infected with a Virus named "Riskware".

My password-recovery utilities are not the only victims of the "over protection" made by Antivirus software. Some other tools, like ProduKey, RegScanner, WebVideoCap, NirCmd, and others that don't recover any password, are still constantly targeted by Antivirus companies, without any known reason.

Other developers also have "False Positive" problems

Other small developers also constantly experience false alerts made by Antivirus software, here some examples:

What about large companies like Microsoft ?

Large companies usually don't have any false positives problems, and even if there is a single case of false alert, the antivirus company will probably fix it very soon. After all, antivirus companies know that Large companies have good lawyers and if they won't fix the problem, they may find themselves in a large lawsuit for libel.
One good example is SysInternals. In the past, their psexec.exe tool that can be used to execute code on remote machine, was detected as Virus by some Antivirus programs, but today, when SysInternals is a part of Microsoft, All Antiviruses show it's clean, as
you can see from this VirusTotal report.

Examples for emails I receive on daily basis

Here's some examples of messages regarding the virus alerts, that I get to my inbox on daily basis:

  • "Your mspass.exe is infected with Virus"
    "You have Trojan horse in your Mail PassView utility"
    "your ProduKey is a Trojan, be ashamed !"

    These messages are sent by users that really think that my tools are infected. I cannot blame them for thinking that, because the Antivirus really tell them that there is an infection.
    Most Antivirus programs don't explain the user that the alert is displayed only because it's a legitimated tool that might be used by hackers.
    They simply tells the user that the tool is infected with Virus or trojan, even it's not really the truth.

  • "I try to run your program and it says that I don't have permission"
    "I try to run your program, and I get the following message: 'Windows cannot access the specified device, path, or file. You may not have the appropriate permission to access the item'"
    "I try to run your program, and nothing happen"
    "Each time that I download your program and extract the files, the .exe file disappears"

    These messages are sent by users who think that there is a bug or problem with my utility, without knowing that this problem is actually caused by their Antivirus.
    In some circumstances, the Antivirus software runs in the background, and when it detect a threat, it simply block the .exe file, put the file in quarantine, or simply delete it, without telling the user anything.
    The frustrated user think that there is a problem in the software he tries to run, without knowing that the Antivirus software, that should protect his computer, is actually the troublemaker that causes this problem.

  • "When I try to get into utilities section of your site, I get 'the page cannot be displayed' error"
    "You have a broken link in your site - When I try to download your ProduKey tool, I get 'the page cannot be displayed' error"

    These messages are sent by users who think that there is a problem in my Web site, because they cannot browse into a Web page in my site or download a utility from my site. But once again, this problem is caused by Antivirus or Firewall that decided to block my Web site without explaining the user about the site blocking.

    Zonealarm products, as opposed to others, redirects the user into a Web page which says that " has been known to distribute spyware", which is completely untrue.

    This web page also offers to report about false detection to I really tried to do so, but I received the following error message from their email server:
    ----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors -----

    (reason: 550 5.1.1 ... User unknown)

    As you can see, Zonealarm provides an email to report about false positives, but it's a fake email address that nobody really reads.

Needless to say - all these virus-related email messages that I receive every day are a big headache and require me to waste my time on answering/handling them,
instead of adding new features to my utilities and updating my site.

Why don't you contact the Antivirus companies ?

Some people ask me, "Why don't you simply contact the Antivirus companies to resolve the false alerts issues ?"
So here's some important points:

  1. There are dozens of Antivirus companies out there, and with combination of more than 100 utilities in my site, false alerts appears and disappears all the time. Handling all these false alerts may require an employee with full-time job, even more than that.

  2. If you look into the Web sites of some Antivirus companies, you'll easily find a large "Buy Now" button, but you probably won't find any "Report About False Positive" link. Antivirus companies always want to make more sells, but they don't really care about false positives in their products. They usually hide the option to report about false alert very deep in their Web site, and some of them gives "False Positive" support only for users that purchased their product.

  3. Even when I find the method to report about a false alert, deeply in their Web site, most of the companies don't answer the requests at all or simply send an automatic message, saying that the sample that I sent is infected. In some cases, The Antivirus company fix the false alert problem in their next update, but without admitting that they had a false positive, and without sending any apology to me, as a developer.

  4. False Positives usually come back: Even when Antivirus company finally fix a false positive, it's just a matter of time, until the false positive returns again, with a new Virus/Trojan name.

Help me and other developers !

If you feel frustrated, like me, about all these false alerts, you can help me and other small developers to stop Antivirus programs from detecting innocent tools as Viruses/Trojans.

What can you do ?
Here's some examples:

  1. Add your comments to this article about False Positives problems you experience (As user or as software developer)

  2. Send this post to your friends, so they'll know more about false positive problems.

  3. If you constantly pay for licenses and updates for your Antivirus software,
    don't hesitate to call your Antivirus company and require them to stop the false alerts.
    You pay for your Antivirus product, and you deserved to get a reliable product that detect only real viruses.

  4. If you have any contact with large magazine writer/journalist, you may try to offer him to make a research and/or write an article about all false alerts problems made by Antivirus.
    Unfortunately, some magazines will never write an article against the Antivirus companies, because these companies also pay for advertising in these magazines.

In the bottom line, if the false positives problem will make too much noise in the media, the Antivirus companies will understand that false positives may also hurt their reputation and decrease their product sells, and eventually they will give more priority to fix the false alerts in their products.


Blogger Mr said...

I constantly experienced this problem of false positives. It's really crazy...

Even the "Kaspersky removal tool" is detected as a trojan by Mcafee. Lots of programs I need to monitor computer activity, or cleen malwarse are detected as trojan and it's really difficult to use them. And of course some of the Nirsoft programs that are my favorites.

But what can we do ? For me it's a further divide between two opposites conceptions of computering.

May 19, 2009 6:48 AM  
Blogger Rarst said...

My scripts in AutoIt (AutoHotkey is spinoff of it) get false positives all the time. :( I understand that this is terrrible issue for developers with large portfolio of utilities.

Still as user - if specific malicious code is similar in legitimate app and malware I'd prefer it detected rather than not detected.

Overall it is one of those issues that don't have clear and easy solution. Antivirus developers are unlikely to cooperate on global scale and dealing with them case by case is impossible.

I hope you will (if not already) find convenient method of dealing with false positives feedback and it is not too much of discouragement.

May 19, 2009 8:48 AM  
Blogger The MAZZTer said...

I agree this is a pain, whenever I plug in my thumb drive into another computer I find Norton happily deleting files from it for me. So now I tend to disable any AV before plugging it in (a lot easier).

May 19, 2009 9:29 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

I also develop a little in VB6 on the rare occasion, once trying to write an update component into some custom software I wrote for a company I used to work for.

Unfortunately no matter how I tried, I couldn't find a way to code it without having it detected as trojan/downloader by at least Symantec. Even "excluding" the file in the software didn't work _for long_ and I was never able to find a way to report the issue to Symantec. Out of curiosity I checked and the file was also "infected" by McAfee or some other program they had at the time.

Was it the code itself, or that it was hard-coded for my domain, I dunno.

Surely the manpower for an anti-virus company doesn't allow to check all software. Maybe they come up with a few things to look for, like however my update code looks to their detection engine, then blanket this as a downloader trojan for all files scanned, and EXCLUDE the big software vendor's apps that could match this criteria.

Of course I also firmly believe most of them intentionally jack up the false positives (affecting primarily small developers) so they can boast higher detection rates.
And you are right, they justify this on the technicality that the software *could* be used maliciously.

But it doesn't mean they need to be so deceitful about the detection.

Also, the absolute worst part about a false positive, is that it trains the half-way competent user or even a computer tech to always disable the anti-virus when something like your password utility is being used... what if that utility was infected by a real threat? Perhaps a computer tech who is retrieving a product key or password had something infect all the .exe's on the flash drive being used, what then?

May 19, 2009 11:16 AM  
Blogger Rarst said...

>Of course I also firmly believe most of them intentionally jack up the false positives (affecting primarily small developers) so they can boast higher detection rates.

Nope, high percentage of false positives is sign of low quality. All popular antivirus tests check that and count into their rankings (not that those are absolute and objective).

It's not intentional, just the way things work when it is hard to tell apart malicious code from legit.

May 19, 2009 11:58 AM  
Blogger rjl said...

THANK YOU for posting this. I hope something is done about this. The "little" guys always get the shaft. We write "entertainment" software that is flagged as viruses by all of the major players. We've added FAQ topics, Discussion Forum posts and readme's to explain that our software is NOT a virus. In the end its killing our business, as users dont understand the different between Annoyware or Fun/Joke program vs. Viruses. We have contacted McAfee and Norton - but no luck. Here are some topics we've added (will provide a link back to this blog)

May 19, 2009 12:21 PM  
OpenID MK in SF 666 said...

The anti-virus system I use provides an email address to its registered users for reporting false positives.

I'm happy to report that *every* time I've submitted a file or URL to a download, I've received a response within eight hours that stated, "Thank you--we have investigated and determined this is a false positive, and it will be corrected in the next set of virus definitions."

May 20, 2009 4:23 AM  
OpenID funy said...

This used to drive me mad when i used to ask a client on the phone to install a remote connection application like teamviewer or aamy admin and it would get thrown straight into quarantine, which then required me to talk them through authorising it which with some clients who were not at all IT literate was a pain. Also had a few problems with F/P's with some of your tools but it would appear that Sophos (which i work with most) doesnt pick them up.

May 20, 2009 6:56 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Well it has to be said, that if the users are so stupid that they cannot tell the difference between a legitimate program and a virus, then perhaps they shouldn't be using them.

I myself have really appreciated the software that you have put together and use it a lot. It helps me to irons out problems in networks and on hard drives.

Another issue is the general issue of the proliferation of antiviral programs. Perhaps the crappy ones need to be boycotted a little more with a good amount of blogging.

In the end, nothing beats good old fashion common sense and a bit of education.

Keep up the good work and invets in a mail filtering programme with a generic reply.

Another developer with similar issues...

May 22, 2009 12:59 AM  
Blogger Bunkerman said...

Avira Antivir 2009:
'SPR/Tool.KeyView' [riskware].

June 2, 2009 8:32 PM  
Blogger rabbit said...

"My scripts in AutoIt (AutoHotkey is spinoff of it) get false positives all the time. :( I understand that this is terrrible issue for developers with large portfolio of utilities."

The same thing happens to me... I think Jon (AutoIt Developer) said that the main autoit interpreter was classified as a virus, so almost any script made with AutoIt will also be classified as one, as it includes it.

He is trying to work with the security software providers to sort out how to detect autoit programs as viruses, so hopefully...

June 15, 2009 7:07 AM  
Blogger alexsupra said...

hi. i'm service engineer and founder of project about free software.
experiments and test based on real practical usage show that antivirus software applications become more and more useless, consume the great amount of pc hardware resources (sometimes users cant use their workstation beacause of single program with service purpose - "antivirus"), often damage users or system software ("false positives") and even can destroy system completly without any reason.
so lets determine what are the main features of virus-like (trash, harmful, dangerous, etc.) software:
1. consuming more or less system resources like memory and cpu for running them self without any possible users control;
2. creating a lot of startup items represented by executables in system registry run-sections or creating one or much more services;
3. allways updating, downloading something and uploading some data about local system thus sometimes consuming a lot of internet traffic;
4. show various information like annying commercial advertisments;
5. providing remote access to users workstation.
so, mentioned above is about viruses and... the first of all and largly about commercial antiviruses that use these methodes for getting more and more profit without real thinking about end-users or software developers.
besides that computers and networking service job experience shows that in most cases when real viruses presents in system antivirus programs can do nothing. no detection or no real helpful action in case of detection. thus popular commercial antiviruses are absolutly useless in most cases and even dangerous in some cases.
the most evil commercial products according to service engineering experience are: avg, nod32, avp (kaspersky), threatfire.
the most trully useful and really powerful solution is clamav scanner cause it never lies (cause that is free and open source software) and nowadays has great virus detection level.
it has now "monitor" but that is advantage cause when antivirus monitor works that mean antivirus monitor works on your pc but not you. to control system in real time security task manager can be used like anvir (freeware). for networking security real network firewall can be used like ghostwall (freeware). all that tools must be preconfigured and used all together as one security solution that virus problem can be solved without bying other super-viruses that have the single aim to get your money and thats all.
thank you nir, for your the greatest free software tools.
the are often used in our free software project cause they are extremly useful!
have a nice day!

June 15, 2009 2:16 PM  
Blogger kc5kdw said...

I work as an IT Tech Support rep at a software company. Our software uses Microsoft SQL Server as its database. Over the past year Mcafee has been a horrible problem for us. It seems they block the SQL server right out of the box. You have to buy their higher corporate version in order to not have it happen. Our clients are constantly getting an invalid database connection, because the DB is blocked. What makes it unsafe. It requires the use of two ports to communicate. Firewalls and spyware companies seem to have taken over the computers. They slow them down, and often don't catch half of what is actually spyware and viruses. It's sad, but I find it easier and safer to run without all that junk running all the time. I have found other ways to be preventative.

June 16, 2009 2:07 AM  
OpenID ncdave4life said...

Which AV companies are best/worst in this respect?

I assume that McAfee and Norton/Symantec are terrible. But what about the rest: Grisoft AVG, Avast!, AntiVir, BitDefender, Kaspersky, etc.? Are any of them reasonably responsive to false-positive reports?

I have some AV recommendations on my web site, and I'd like to add this info to it:


Dave Burton
Geeks Alive! Computer Rescue
Burton Systems Software
Cary, NC USA


Hey, Nir, do you know that your blogger comment-posting system is broken?

I tried six web browsers. Only one of them works.

In Firefox 3.0.5, Safari 3.2.3, Chrome, and IE 8 under XP Pro, after I select my TypePad ID, your page brings up a Preview and Word verification box, but there's no place to enter the verification word, and, in fact, the picture of the word is clipped off at the bottom.

In IE 8, there's the added annoyance that the scroll bar doesn't work in the preview box.

The Off-By-One browser doesn't work, either.

(Also, in some of the browsers, the Preview button does not work; it produces an error message, "Your request could not be processed. Please try again.")

I posted this using Opera 9.52, under which the mouse wheel scrolls the box to expose the place to enter the verification word and the "Post Comment" button. Opera seems to be the ONLY browser that works to post a comment here!


July 24, 2009 2:40 AM  
Blogger Bar said...

I am facing a one problme due to my anti virus program. I have installed macfee in my pc and this antivirus can block some of the service of mu internet connection like i am not able to chat with my friends with my yahoo messanger.

logitech speakers

September 25, 2009 9:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I am using Avast 4.8 homepremium. I am using it on my pc.
I have never face any kind of problem in my pc. It works awesome. I have never formated C: drive due to virus. Avast protect pc from viruses, malwares and trojans.

hard drive

September 26, 2009 5:01 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I am using avast 4.8 home premium. I am using it since last 1.5 year. I have never face any kind of problem. It works awesome. Avast protects from viruses, trojans and malwares.

hard drive

September 26, 2009 5:02 AM  
Blogger Shawn Williams said...

I am also using avast 4.8 home premium. As it is free and easily down loadable from its website my first choice goes for Avast.It works very well in my pc and I am totally satisfied by its performance.

memoire vive

September 29, 2009 1:24 AM  

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