Free Antivirus Isn’t Free

That free AV software isn’t out of the kindness of their hearts

Yesterday we announced PC Matic’s Data Integrity Pledge. Recently, news that some “free” antivirus (AV) products surfaced. Interestingly, these free products have been caught with their hands in the (digital) cookie jar.

In an article by PCMag, it was discovered that one free AV in particular was crossing a concerning line. Data by its users is currently being harvested and sold. The claim from the product is that the information is put through a de-identification process. That’s been found to be untrue.

The problem with de-identification

These products aren’t intentionally lying to their customers. Actually, the problem is that their methods don’t work. While de-identification is good in theory, there are still tags attached to data that lead back to user information. This can make a consumer identifiable. While your name and IP are removed, the path back to you is pretty well lit.

Data harvesting isn’t new. It’s used to help companies identify what’s trending with consumers. Sometimes data harvesting can be a useful tool to identify where to take product markets. Unfortunately, it’s also a concerning issue when talking about privacy.

The importance of privacy

In an increasingly connected world, privacy is important. The threat of ransomware is on everyone’s horizons. Privacy is a key component to keeping sensitive data safe. Identifying individual consumers browsing and purchasing histories can open them up to more sophisticated phishing efforts.

Targeted and sophisticated phishing is popular among cyber criminals. They’re banking on employees slipping up. In other words, knowing what snags a person’s eye can potentially be used as a backdoor into their employer’s network.

For example, a cyber criminal buys the data mining information for certain users at an organization. They can then send a targeted phishing scam to those employees. Since employees continually connect to their employer’s WiFi, opening a phishing scam even on their own device can expose the employer’s network.

Data integrity

By pledging to its customers that PC Matic will never expose their data, we’re taking one step further in the protection of your organization’s security. The two can seem disjointed. When you take a look at the pathways between buying habits and connectivity, you see the road into an organization is pretty straight forward.

In other words, the more you know can actually be harmful. Remember those commercials with the shooting star that purported “the more you know” as a good thing? That is true, but it’s true for everyone. The more you know about security, the less likely you are to be a victim of phishing attempts. On the other hand, the more the cyber criminals know about those they’re attacking the more sophisticated they can make their attacks. It’s a double edged sword.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

The old adage holds true. Those “free” AV products aren’t free. Businesses can’t give things away and stay in business. It’s a universal truth. So if a product is claiming to not charge you, they’re still making their money somewhere.

Anything worth having is worth the investment you put into it. Whether it’s a pair of hiking boots or an AV that pledges not to distribute (or mine) your personal information, you’re going to get what you pay for.

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