Monday, June 13, 2011

Avira AntiVir Adds Ask Toolbar and Scareware PopUp

Avira AntiVir has long been a favorite provider of free antivirus protection.  The product has also received acclaims for the quality of protection.  Unfortunately, Avira has made several changes, resulting in removing the product from the "recommended list".  

  1. Avira AntiVir had replaced the Avira Personal Free edition notifier.  It is no longer suggesting upgrading to Avira premium or the security suite.  Instead, the notifier is advertising Uniblue "Registry Booster". 
  2.  Licensed users of Avira Premium are receiving e-mails advertising the same Uniblue "Registry Booster" product. 
  3.  The addition of a toolbar with the pre-checked option to include the Ask Toolbar (AntiVir WebGuard) and change the default search provider to Ask. 
Although some people have referred to Uniblue's "Registry Booster" product as a rogue, based on descriptions of how it works, the product is better described as scareware.  Scareware products are those that provide scan results that imply there are serious issues with the computer.  However, the only way to fix the issues is purchase the product.

To add to the computer owner's confusion is that Uniblue proudly displays the Microsoft Partner logo.  This gives the impression that the company has any close relationship with Microsoft.  It is important to understand that there is no vetting to become a registered Microsoft partner. All it means to be a Microsoft Partner is that the company employs the requisite number of certified professionals and has completed the registration process, nothing more. 

In my opinion, as well as that of many members of the security community, it is deplorable when a security vendor adds a pre-checked option to include an unnecessary add-on and change the user's preferences.  A responsible security vendor should provide a clean installer, focusing on improving the product, fixing any bugs and continuing to improve the product. 

If you are using Avira AntiVir antivirus software, I encourage you to read the articles listed in the references section below and decide for yourself if this is a product you wish to continue using. 

There are still two recommended antivirus software programs that are free for personal use, avast! 6 Home Edition and Microsoft Security Essentials. My favorite licensed antivirus choice is ESET.


Remember - "A day without laughter is a day wasted."
May the wind sing to you and the sun rise in your heart...


ipl_001 aka Gérard Mélone said...

Hi Security Garden,

Thanks a lot for this excellent article.
I intend to write at least 4 articles on SecuFD (a Microsoft blog):
-1- Registry cleaners, and other "tweekers"
-2- ads on trusted forums and sites
-3- Avira and toolbars and pre-checked installation options
-4- Uniblue and Microsoft Partners

Corrine said...

Good idea. I have been considering a couple of the same topics (time permitting).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip, Corrine. It's the first I have heard of this.

I have many customers who use Avira free (on my recommendation) and I use it on one of my personal PCs as well. I have yet to notice the Uniblue ad in the notifier, but then again, I pay no attention to it. (I tell my clients to treat it as a notification of update and to simply close it.) I have also yet to encounter the dreaded Ask Toolbar install attempt.

This is very disappointing as Avira is (along with Avast) my favorite free AV product. I won't replace Avira right away, if I don't get any toolbar requests, but I will refrain from any new installs until this issue is resolved.

Avira has been a superb actor in the AV community for many years. I really hope they see the error of their ways and reverse this decision to deal with garbage companies such as Uniblue and Ask. Otherwise they join Comodo as a so-called "security company" in bed with products it should be protecting us against.

-Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

Corrine said...

Hi, Brian.

It is indeed very disappointing that Avira has elected to go this route.

This is the information on the toolbar that I obtained from CoU: FAQ for Home.

As far as I'm concerned, spam e-mails to licensed customers for Uniblue's "Registry Booster" (described as rogue by some people, but really scareware) and replacing the upgrade to the licensed version to users of the free version is worse than the addition of Ask.

Via Twitter, the Senior IT Manager at Sofpedia, Stefan Fintea, sent me a link to the image of an e-mail Softpedia received a while back from the Avira Director of Consumer Products:

Clark76 said...

Horrible news. My speech for users needing a anti-virus program is starting to get pretty lean now. Thank you for the heads up!


sjb007 said...

It's sad to see it go this way. A reputable AV which has gained respect in the past with a proven track record to be let down by this.

Corrine said...

You would expect that a security vendor would have the highest standards. Instead, we are seeing a lacking of ethics and integrity.

Very sad, indeed.

GerardM aka ipl_001 said...

Hi Corrine,
I published an article on my usual French blog (Microsoft's FrogZ)
-> Avira nous aurait fait ça ???!!!
(!!!.aspx )
Thanks for your excellent paper.

Corrine said...

Thank you,Gérard.

andyo said...

[Sorry, I got an error after I signed in with Google, if the first one went through, this is a duplicate post, please delete one.]

Hi, I read this post from googling. I understand it's a bit old, but for most Avira users, it seems today or yesterday was when it finally hit the fan. Just to add something, the so-called "opting-out" of installing the Ask toolbar is very convoluted (that's me) and nevertheless, you still get at least one ASK executable running after installation, without accepting anything in the first place.

If you don't do this convoluted method, which basically amounts to a reinstall (but via "modify" in the Programs and Features section of Control Panel), then you have the "closed umbrella" icon, which with Avira it means there's something not working right.

Also every time when you start up after the SP2 update, you get a nag dialog asking you to install Webguard or Safe Search or whatever is called (which will install ASK toolbar). In it, you get the idiotic "choice" of either "Install now", or "Install later". No "never". It would be funny if it wasn't my freaking "security" software! And when did "either NOW or LATER only" choices become acceptable? Their "response"? Click on "later" 3 times and it won't nag you again. Of course, this information is only available if you go to their forum and registering, and asking the question. Fortunately this issue is splashed all over cause everybody was asking the same thing.

And their forum... you can't reply to other user's posts unless you're accepted as a "community user" or some such. Bleh, I'm done with Avira.

Now the positive... thanks for your AVAST recommendation. Installed today and I'm already liking it better than Avira even if Avira hadn't done what they did.

I have Comodo installed, and after reading the CEO's exchanges, I was considering Online Armor, which I tried before and liked it, but unfortunately wasn't as powerful as Comodo firewall, which I've grown accustomed to. Specifically, block individual ports and IPs only. Do you know any other (free) firewall that would do this?

Corrine said...

Hi, ao9news.

Thank you for your comments. Have you successfully tried the "Click on "later" 3 times and it won't nag you again."?

andyo said...

I didn't get to that point, so I couldn't test it myself. I just went through the "modify" route to supposedly get rid of everything extra altogether, including Webguard. I'm also following the dslreports thread, btw.

Corrine said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The new toolbar is a nightmare. I installed it and decided to uninstall because it was slowing down my internet.. WHAT A MISTAKE! I couldnt access the internet through any web browser. I tried restoring to no avail. I had to do a complete factory reset.

Anonymous said...

I am very sad of this development. I have used Antivir since 2001 and never had a problem.

OK, you may choose not to install the Ask toolbar. But once you have installed, you cannot get rid of it without silly pop-ups. "Ask" is attacking everywhere.

And even worse is the Uniblue scareware. On a freshly installed machine it detects by default 25 registry problems.

Sorry, this is not serious. What is the Auerbach foundation thinking of this? Do they need money for their oher projects?

Don P said...

Good article! About 5 years ago I apoke at length with a developer of a very popular product who relied exclusively on payments for his work via the "sucker punch" of those too lazy or who weren't aware of the long route required though his install menus where the Ask Toolbar install could be disabled.

In the past. software that has tried to force-install this spyware will (ethically) provide some way even though for the most part hidden, to opt out of the Ask Toolbar installation. It looks like Avira has taken this to the next level, however, by not only skipping out on any Ask Toolbar opt out method, but incorporating the Ask Toolbar software into their own product where it can never be removed. If you do manage to unlock the three files that control it so they can be deleted or renamed, the very next update will reinstall them and enable them again.

My developer friend told me back then that woud pay him up to $1 per successful install of their toolbar. I am not sure what the going rate is today but with this big payload to developers of popular software and the cash flowing inward only after a successful completion of the install, it's no wonder the greedyiest of the greedy are now force installing it with no opt out.

The only mystery of this equasion is what the ApnStub.exe (Avira's Ask toolbar linking executable) is finding so valueable on your system that they are willing to lay out that kind of cash for it. Well Avira, it looks like another one bites the dust. I'll be bidding a friendly "so lange" to our now infamous German friends. Thanks for the memories.

ky331 said...


The integrity issues with Avira have gotten significantly worse with the release of version 12: The installer now dupes people into uninstalling most other security programs on their system, implying these are "potentially incompatible" with Avira --- even if they aren't. It allegedly objects to the presence of SpywareBlaster, WinPatrol, Secunia's PSI, SpyBot, AdAware, SAS, MBAM, and Comodo's firewall (among others).

Corrine said...


Since I cannot edit comments, rather than publishing your comment with your e-mail address, to protect your privacy, it is copy/pasted below without e-mail address:


"This thread is an oasis of sanity in a desert of confusion. I have seen Avira working on customers' machines in the past without any problems. I always uninstall the useless Ask Toolbar whenever I see it. Uniblue's dubious offerings are another matter. Usually they are merely obnoxious scareware, and can be uninstalled, but I have seen them fail to uninstall, damage Windows installations, and disable system restore so that repair by the user is nearly impossible. No matter what wonderful things you hear about Uniblue: BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID. Anyone who actually distributes or recommends anything from Uniblue is, in my opinion, suspect. Don't believe me? Install Uniblue on a fresh Windows install and it will show numerous scary errors. If you don't smell snake oil now, your nose isn't working.

Sincerely, [e-mail address removed]
(since I don't use the other identity options)"

Anonymous said...

Do not sign up for AVIRA you will get ads for android software wich will lock up your computer.

No help from AVIRA