Updated: January 10, 2011
Placebo anti-virus, what's the deal? First, the idea. Approx. two years ago, the fellow owner of doxdesk.com got fed up with anti-virus software and decided to create his own mock version of the concept, the so-called placebo anti-virus aptly named PlaceboAV. What it does is does nothing. It's a program that sits in your system tray and very modestly churns memory and CPU cycles. It won't alert you on any false negatives and negative positives. It won't find any goodies or baddies. Your system will always be clean and you can update the zero-size database, if you really must. So, it's a two-year joke and I'm reviving it.
Second, the idea. Yes, it's a darn good public protest against a failed software ideology, where you fight against malware using signature-based program only half as good as they promise and totally useless in the long run. For two reasons. One, malware is so overrated, it's beyond boring or stupid. Two, you need not get infected if you don't want to and you will if you do, and conversely, you won't get infected if you don't use anti-whatever software. Do you get the subliminal message yet?
All right. So let me show you this thing. Head over to doxdesk.com and grab the executable. Now, be warned! It is flagged as riskware if you run it against a cocktail scanner like Jotti or VirusTotal. What this means is that anti-virus companies deny liability by marking the product potentially bad. What this also means is that if you're not a skilled user capable of discerning real malware from a joke, by using debuggers, network sniffers and whatnot, then you should not be running this program in the first place.
For the sake of education, I ran it in a virtualized Windows on a VMware Workstation inside Ubuntu Lucid, the pre-latest Ubuntu release, and I restored the snapshot afterwards. I hope this would-be paranoia will deter you from trying something that you could regret later. Needless to say, you should make sure your personal data is backed up. After you download the tiny binary, just run it.
And updates. Right-click on the icon, choose Update. Voila!
If you need an anti-virus, you have one. Is it as efficient as the real ones? Perhaps, but it takes far fewer resources, it won't ever delete an important file and it costs nothing. You can't easily dismiss such worthy qualities.
And how do you protect yourself against digital Armageddon for real? Well, you hop into my Computer section and read. I'll just link to the latest piece I've written on Windows 7 security, and from there, you can dig back into relevant articles.
Personally, I think PlaceboAV is a very smart and not-so-subtle way of protest. But it has its merits. The very tongue-in-cheek and knuckleduster-in-teeth approach serves the general idea well. Anti-virus software can be a good product for you, but it's a matter of your state of mind rather than any state of software.
Using a free product that does nothing makes no difference and sheds a rather ugly light on the whole scare affair blooming so vividly in the computer market. Anti-virus as a word has become synonymous with doom and safety and has remained lodged in its mighty place for twenty plus years, without any real impact. Are users any smarter today than they were twenty years back? Do they get any less infected? Has malware prevalence dropped down? On the contrary. Using anti-virus does not really help, it seems. Perhaps not using it could make the difference?
I hope you liked it. And while you are at it, do read some of the articles at doxdesk.com. Quite a few are worth perusing. Have fun, childrens of the Internets!