Windows 98/ME-Friendly Security Tools
Last week, I blogged about Microsoft's plans this month to end support and security patches for Windows 98 and Windows ME. Given what I heard from a number of users who said they planned to keep using those systems indefinitely, I promised to circle back with a look at which security tools still play nice with them.
For this project, I installed Windows 98 Second Edition on a "virtual machine" using VMWare Server, which allows you to run multiple operating systems within a host OS. The fresh installation of Windows 98SE came with Internet Explorer 5.0, a woefully outdated and insecure version of the browser that initially gave me some serious problems trying to download patches from Microsoft's Web site.
As soon as I opened up IE, the browser automagically redirected to Windows Update, after which IE promptly crashed. I then restored the virtual machine to its original state (a fresh install), and opened up IE again, this time halting the auto-redirect. Then I ran a Google search for "IE 6 and inurl:Microsoft.com" and was able to download IE 6.0 with Service Pack 1 directly from Microsoft's site (not from Windows Update).
After installing IE 6 and rebooting, I visited Windows Update and -- GAH! -- the browser crashed again. For whatever reason, the third time I visited WU did the trick with no crashes, and I was able to download two dozen critical security updates. After installing all of the updates and rebooting for the nth time, I was itching to install some security tools.
Before I go any further, I should note a few things. First, this is by no means a comprehensive list of security software that works on Windows 98 and ME. Most of the tools listed below are available for free online or through a 60- to 90-day trial period. If you know of other security tools that work well with these older systems, please either drop me a line or leave a note in the comments section below. If I receive enough of them I will put together another post like this pointing them out.
Also, while ME and 98 (and SE) are not identical operating systems, they are close enough in their genetic makeup that it is probably fair to assume that if a program plays nice or fails in Windows 98, it will probably also behave the same way in Windows ME, and vice versa.
Thirdly, I tested each of these tools for several things, including whether they installed and ran well after a reboot, and whether they uninstalled cleanly (without kicking up a big fuss, leaving behind random files or disturbing other system functions). I tested each tool by itself, with no other software installed except the operating system and any available security updates. I did not test how well the tools warded off malware installations or other online attacks, so please bear in mind that even if a piece of software installs and runs fine on a stock install of an operating system, it may not perform the same way on a system that is already infected. (In all likelihood, installing anti-virus or other security software on a compromised 98 or ME machine will result in the dreaded "Blue Screen of Death.")
That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of software titles that appeared to work well with these older systems. I have grouped together the ones I tested under categories below, along with notes about installation or runtime issues. Overall, I'd have to say my testing definitely showed that the free security tools performed better on Windows 98 than did paid or trial versions of retail software.
Free Anti-virus Software
Antivir Personal Edition Classic: Install OK; system scan fine. AntiVir's program uninstaller failed. A second uninstall attempt using Windows "Add/Remove Programs" got rid of it.
Avast 4 Home Edition: Installed, updated, scanned and uninstalled okay.
Grisoft's AVG Personal Edition: Installed, updated, scanned and uninstalled without incident.
Bitdefender 8, Free Edition: After installing this program, I could see why they were giving it away. It said I needed to reboot Windows to complete the process, so I hit "OK," but then it launched a full system scan that was abruptly curtailed by the reboot it had requested. It rebooted fine and placed a program icon on the system tray, but I had to click it to get it to start. Then I had to manually update the anti-virus software, after which it shut down again and went back to the taskbar, necessitating another three clicks to get it to scan the system. When I finally hit "Scan," it only generated a message saying "Unable to connect to scanner." Uninstalled without hesitation.
ClamWin Free: Installed and updated fine. Scan was quick and painless. Uninstalled fine.
Trial Anti-Virus (paid subscription required at end of trial period)
EZTrust Anti-Virus (one year free): I have used this anti-virus product from Microsoft and CA on other machines with pretty decent results, but when I tried to download it from CA this time I ran into quite a few problems. The free trial is supposed to last a full year, but when I registered for the download and license key, I was sent an e-mail with a link that it said would provide me with both. When I visited that link, however, I saw nothing but ads for paid versions of CA's products. When I complained to customer support, I received an e-mail about three hours later that said they were looking into it. Another e-mail followed, asking me to provide my license key, which I had told them I did not yet have. Shortly thereafter I received another e-mail from CA's general tech-support department informing me that they were happy to hear that my issue had been resolved (when of course it hadn't). A follow-up e-mail to the support rep elicited a reply that they could find no record of my registration ... funny enough, I could log in to my "account" at the CA Web site using the credentials I registered with, but after accepting my login the Web site also reported that I had no valid license keys assigned to me. I decided not to waste any more time and found an older EZTrust installer program just to see if it would work on the Win 98 test machine. It did, but only after installing the "Windows Installer 2.0" from Microsoft's Web site (required for any Microsoft installer files, those ending in ".MSI". Uninstalled without hesitation.
F-Secure Antivirus 2006 (six-month free trial): Install, scan and update were all painless and quick, and the program erased itself cleanly.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6.0 (30-day trial): Install, update and scan okay. Uninstaller was reluctant -- it took about three tries to get the anti-virus program to shut down. After the uninstall was completed, it tried to reboot the machine, but Windows kept complaining that a file (unnamed) refused to close and the system would not shut itself off. A manual restart (read: me furiously stabbing the power button) did the trick.
Panda Platinum 2006 Internet Security (90-day trial): The first time I downloaded and ran the Panda installer, it unexpectedly quit, generating the following error: "Error reading Plat06MicrosoftEng.exe. Possible cause; bad disk or file transfer error.<2>". So I re-downloaded the installer and everything went fine until it complained that to complete the install I had to have my computer screen set to 16-bit color or greater, with a resolution of at least 800x600 pixels. Once I got that straightened out, I was able to install the product without any further glitches. It updated and scanned successfully. However, several times during the scan it popped up ads for various products, including a contest advertising a free Sony Playstation. Not that I wasn't prepared for this, mind you: About nine months ago I signed up for a free online anti-virus scan from Panda and made the mistake of giving them one of my Gmail addresses. Now I get about five e-mails a week from them, including giveaway offers like this one. Uninstalled with pleasure.
McAfee Virus Scan (90-day free trial): Installed, updated, scanned and removed without fuss.
Symantec Norton Anti-virus 2006 (90-day trial): Not compatible with Windows 98/ME.
Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2006 (90-day trial): This program is advertised as compatible with Windows 98, but it hung (I had left it alone for hours) during its initial pre-install virus scan, and then the thing just vanished. After a restart there was no sign of Trend's program on the machine. Another attempt at installation produced the exact same results. No uninstall required.
Free Firewall Software
Kerio Personal Firewall.: Not compatible with Windows 98/ME.
Jetico Personal Firewall: Jetico was problem-free in installation and operation, and removed itself when instructed.
Tiny Personal Firewall: I had no problems installing, running or removing this program.
ZoneAlarm Free: Check Point Software, which owns the ZoneAlarm suite of products, recently announced that new versions (v. 6.5xx of ZoneAlarm) will not run on Windows 98/ME. If you are already using ZoneAlarm Free on a 98/SE installation, it should continue to work just fine. However, Checkpoint says it may discontinue support for those installations at any time. From their advisory:
"Pre-6.5 products will continue to run on the Windows 98/98SE/ME operating system. However, there are a few new and advanced protection features in ZoneAlarm products that will not run due to technical limitations of this operating system. Zone Labs strongly recommends upgrading to a supported and current version of the Windows operating system. Zone Labs may end services to pre-6.5 products at any time."
At any rate, if you don't already have this firewall and want to download a copy that works with Windows 98/ME, check out the 6.0 version, available from here.
It's also worth noting that hardware firewalls -- those that come pre-installed on most wireless routers these days -- are a very effective way of filtering inbound malicious Web traffic. Software firewalls work both ways, and thus provide an extra measure of filtering to ensure that you are alerted to any program on your machine trying to access the Web.
Firefox 1.5.x: Firefox worked fine in every respect on my Win 98/SE installation.
Opera 9: No problems here either.
Free Anti-spyware Tools:
AdAware Personal: Install, update, scan, and removal -- all hunky-dory.
Spybot Search and Destroy: Installed, updated, scanned and uninstalled cleanly.
Spyware Guard: Install and configuration were a breeze. Made itself scarce just fine.
HijackThis: This is a very powerful tool for diagnosing start-up problems and spyware infestations, as it lets you pick which programs should run when you boot Windows. However, it requires you to first download and install Microsoft Visual Basic Runtime 6. Once I got VB6 installed, HijackThis worked perfectly.
Microsoft Windows Defender: Not compatible with Win 98/ME (no big shocker here).
Spywareblaster: This preemptive anti-spyware tool changes certain browser/system settings to make it much harder for spyware to install on your machine. This program also requires Microsoft Visual Basic Runtime 6 to be installed before it will run. No problems with running or uninstalling this tool.
Winpatrol: A tool that hardens system/browser settings so that many system changes do not happen without your approval. Installed, ran and uninstalled without incident.
Trial Anti-Spyware Tools (paid subscription required at the end of trial period)
eTrust PestPatrol (30-day trial): Another CA product that bombed in my testing. The trial version of this software is fairly crippled. Users must purchase a licensed copy to get access to the program's full protection database, and the trial program may not remove all of the nasties it finds. Also, the trial version doesn't provide "active protection," in that it is only an on-demand anti-spyware scanner. Upon restart, the program hiccupped trying to remove some installation files, generating a black command prompt with the error "Batch file missing. File not found" that stayed on the screen until I killed it. The program scanned okay, if sluggishly. Uninstall was more problematic, generating the following message: "The following applications are using files that need to be updated by this setup. Close these applications and click Retry to continue." The only thing listed under the "applications" list was the uninstaller. Even when I right-clicked on one of the two icons installed by this program into my system tray and selected "Disable Active Protection" (never mind that active protection isn't even offered in this version), that didn't work; the program generated the same error. I closed the remaining program using the Windows Task Manager. Meanwhile a Web browser window opened, and I was asked again if I really wanted to remove the program. After clicking "yes," I was asked to take a survey, which I declined. After that brief struggle, the program finished obliterating itself.
Ewido Anti-Spyware (30-day trial): Requires Windows 2000 or higher. Not compatible with Win98/ME.
McAfee Anti-Spyware (30-day trial): Installed and updated okay, although it required a reboot after downloading updates (this was in addition to the reboot required after installing it.). Scan was almost slower than erosion -- it took about 25 minutes for McAfee to scan all of the files on the system (keep in mind this is more or less a stock install). Most other anti-spyware scanners did the same in about half that time or faster. Banishing this software required manually shutting down two different programs and then launching two different uninstallers.
Sunbelt Software's Counterspy (15-day trial). Installed and uninstalled without rebooting. Very fast with both update and scan.
Trend-Micro Antispyware 3 (30-day trial): Not supported on Win 98/ME.
July 11, 2006; 10:22 AM ET
Categories: Safety Tips
Save & Share: Previous: Citibank Phish Spoofs 2-Factor Authentication
Next: Microsoft Patches 18 Security Flaws in Windows, Office
Posted by: Judy Bishop | July 11, 2006 12:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: VHermann | July 11, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GTexas | July 11, 2006 4:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: anonymous | July 11, 2006 5:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: UnKnown User | July 11, 2006 6:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: User Anon | July 11, 2006 6:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 'User Anon' is so wrong!!! | July 11, 2006 8:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ubuntu User | July 11, 2006 8:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Lou | July 11, 2006 8:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2006 8:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Old Win98 User | July 11, 2006 8:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: The End is Near | July 11, 2006 8:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: beetlejuicer | July 11, 2006 11:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SpannerITWks | July 11, 2006 11:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Mark Odell | July 12, 2006 12:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ethan | July 12, 2006 11:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Mark | July 12, 2006 12:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Sawyer | July 12, 2006 1:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Al | July 12, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Robert | July 12, 2006 5:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Grob | July 12, 2006 8:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: trog | July 13, 2006 4:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bubba | July 13, 2006 11:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anon | July 13, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Old Fart | July 13, 2006 4:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Got A Watch | July 14, 2006 12:27 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Autonymous Cowherd | July 14, 2006 12:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bk | July 14, 2006 12:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anne | July 22, 2006 10:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Tahir | July 26, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jane B. | August 4, 2006 8:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Home Security | August 5, 2006 8:58 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Spamhater Shawn | August 12, 2006 4:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dimitr | August 16, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Pat | August 16, 2006 9:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: security tool | August 25, 2006 2:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Arrow | August 25, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Peter Johnson | August 28, 2006 11:52 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: David Cartnor | September 22, 2006 2:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: C_Wit | September 26, 2006 6:35 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.