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At its very simplest, your browser's interaction with a website is like a conversation with Dory, the blue tang fish from Finding Nemo. Your browser sends an HTTP request, the website responds to the request, and then it immediately forgets you. Cookies serve as memory banks for your online interactions, but they can be misused to track you.
Privacy advocates and website trackers are locked in battle. The trackers create supercookies, self-repairing evercookies, and ever more persistent cookie-equivalents, and the privacy team finds ways to foil those. But all the cookie-like solutions must maintain a file on your PC. Browser fingerprinting eliminates the need for that saved file, making defense tough.
The full report displays the same activity charts, but with more detail. Specifically, you get a graph of trackers blocked in the last six months, by month, and a graph for the last week, by day. A panel lists the sites that have made the most tracking attempts, and another lists the most recent blocked attempts. Finally, you see a countdown to the next time AntiTrack will randomize your browser fingerprint plus a history of the latest randomization events.
Just what does tracker blocking entail? The HTTP standard includes a header element that tells websites you don't want them to track you, but it's toothless. Sites can ignore it with impunity, and many do. Twitter dropped support for the Do Not Track header several years ago.
Products like IDX Privacy, Ghostery Midnight, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's free Privacy Badger take an active approach to Do Not Track, blocking all access by URLs associated with known trackers. Note that in addition to advertisers, these can include web analytics tools and social media buttons. Yes, when you visit a page that has a Facebook "like" button, Facebook knows you did, even if you don't click the button!
AntiTrack builds in the ability to clear traces from the five supported browsers. Specifically, it can clear: Browsing history; Address bar history; Temporary internet files; Web cookies; Auto-fill data; Adobe Flash cookies; and Microsoft Silverlight cookies. Some of those may sound a bit odd. Microsoft has been steering people away from Silverlight since 2015 and will remove support from IE (the last browser supporting it) in Windows 11. Flash is similarly on the way out. But hey; if remnants of those antique technologies are gumming up your system, you surely want them gone.
Avast Software s.r.o. is a Czech multinational cybersecurity software company headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic that researches and develops computer security software, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Avast has more than 435 million monthly active users and the second largest market share among anti-malware application vendors worldwide as of April 2020. The company has approximately 1,700 employees across its 25 offices worldwide. In July 2021, NortonLifeLock, an American cybersecurity company, announced that it is in talks to merge with Avast Software. In August 2021, Avast's board of directors agreed to an offer of US$8 billion.
Avast was founded by Pavel Baudiš and Eduard Kučera in 1988 as a cooperative. It had been a private company since 2010 and had its IPO in May 2018. In July 2016, Avast acquired competitor AVG Technologies for $1.3 billion. At the time, AVG was the third-ranked antivirus product. It was dual-listed on the Prague Stock Exchange and on the London Stock Exchange and was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index until it was acquired by NortonLifeLock in September 2022.
The cooperative was changed to a joint partnership in 1991, two years after the velvet revolution caused a regime change in Czechoslovakia. The new regime severed ties with the Soviet Union and reverted the country's economic system to a market economy. In 1995, Avast employee Ondřej Vlček [cs] wrote the first antivirus program for the Windows 95 operating system. In the 1990s security researchers at the Virus Bulletin, an IT security testing organization, gave the Avast software an award in every category tested, increasing the popularity of the software. However, by the late 1990s, the company was struggling financially. Alwil rebuffed acquisition offers by McAfee, who was licensing the Avast antivirus engine.
In 2014, CVC Capital bought an interest in Avast for an undisclosed sum. The purchase valued Avast at $1 billion. Later that year, Avast acquired mobile app developer Inmite in order to build Avast's mobile apps. Additionally, in 2014 Avast's online support forum was compromised, exposing 400,000 names, passwords and email addresses. By 2015, Avast had the largest share of the market for antivirus software. In July 2016, Avast reached an agreement to buy AVG for $1.3 billion. AVG was a large IT security company that sold software for desktops and mobile devices. In July 2017, Avast acquired UK-based Piriform for an undisclosed sum. Piriform was the developer of CCleaner. Shortly afterwards it was disclosed that someone may have created a malicious version of CCleaner with a backdoor for hackers. Avast had its IPO on the London Stock Exchange in May 2018, which valued it at £2.4bn and was one of the UK's biggest technology listings.
Avast and AVG consumer security software are sold on a freemium model, where basic security features are free, but more advanced features require purchasing a premium version. The free version is also supported by ads. Additionally, all Avast users provide data about their PC or mobile device to Avast, which is used to identify new security threats. Antivirus scanning, browser cleanup, a secure browser, password management, and network security features are provided for free, while firewall, anti-spam, and online banking features have to be purchased. According to PC Pro, the software does not "nag" users about upgrading. About 3% of Avast's users pay for a premium version (10% in the US).
The Avast business product family includes features for endpoint protection, Wi-Fi security, antivirus, identity protection, password management, and data protection. For example, the desktop product will look for vulnerabilities in the wi-fi network and run applications suspect of having malicious software in an isolated sandbox. The Avast Business Managed Workplace monitors and manages desktops, and assesses on-site security protocols. The company also sells management software for IT administrators to deploy and manage Avast installations.
PC Magazine gave Avast Free Antivirus software an overall score of 4 out of 5 and gave AVG, which was purchased by Avast in 2016, a score of 4, plus "AVG AntiVirus Free offers precisely the same virus protection engine as Avast Free Antivirus, but it lacks the impressive collection of additional features you get with Avast." In tests conducted by the AV-TEST Institute in August 2021, Avast and AVG received six out of six points for protection and usability, and six out of six points for performance. A review in Tom's Guide says that the free Avast antivirus product has "good protection against malware" and takes up little space on the system. The review says that Avast has a competitive set of features for a free antivirus product, but the scans are sometimes not very fast.
The Avast antivirus product for business users received 4 out of 5 by TechRadar in 2017. The review said that the software had good features, protection, configuration and an "excellent interface", but it took up a lot of hard disk space and did not cover mobile devices. According to Tom's Guide, the mobile version is inexpensive and packed with features. PC Magazine said that the mobile version "has almost all the security features you could want."
An antivirus is the most trusted piece of software, as its primary goal is to protect you from malware. However, when it comes to antivirus privacy, your security program may be sending home more data than you would like.
The data behind this case comes from Restore Privacy, an organization dedicated to helping people protect their privacy. They published a report called "Is Your Antivirus Software Spying on You?" which collates information about how antiviruses track you.
One of the biggest privacy shakeups in 2020 was when Avast was caught selling click information to third parties. Avast's tracking data was anonymized, but companies that bought the data could compare the click logs to their own website's activity logs. This allowed companies to identify who was who on the logs.
These kinds of scandals occur with antiviruses that offer a free version of their software. This is typically how these companies make their money---by selling user information to interested third parties.
Antivirus protects you from visiting malicious websites. To do this, it needs to see what you're visiting. This becomes a problem when you visit an HTTPS website, as your computer will encrypt the data before your antivirus can get its mitts on it.
You can see this process happening on the certificate itself; click the padlock next to an HTTPS website, check the certificate, then see who it was "Issued by." If it says your antivirus's name, it means your security software is peeking into your traffic.
The report above mentions AVG, which comes bundled with a PUP called SafePrice. Supposedly aimed at giving you the best prices for goods on the internet, with the downside that SafePrice tracks your spending habits.
One of the main mantras with free software is "if you're not paying for the product, you're the product." As such, some people aren't surprised whatsoever that free antiviruses harvest information. After all, how else would the companies pay their employees?
Despite this, the idea of antivirus harvesting data worries people. A good antivirus should protect its users and prevent privacy breaches. Now, we're discovering that even antiviruses are untrustworthy, especially the previously highly-recommended free solutions. 2b1af7f3a8