Right off the bat, let me clarify early. I spent a lot of my early to mid teenage years interested in (mostly) Windows-focused security. The interest began around 2001/2002, the hey-day of virus-ridden XP boxes and the gradual rollout of broadband connections.
It was a time where hobbyist and fledgling security products were being built left, right and centre. It was an exciting cat-and-mouse game between malware authors and (often amateur) security researchers, growing mostly due to the general insecurity of Windows XP (pre-SP3).
The early 2000s was also the point where malware expanded from a rather narrow intention of damage for the fun of it. Spyware was born, designed to show you ads at any opportunity. Trojans focused on online banking, with new financial motivations.
The first community I remember being a part of revolved around Gladiator Anti-virus, the forum of which still survives. The “GAV” community was fantastic and close, and I still have friends from there to this day. Gladiator had a rather matrix-inspired interface, and with an underlying engine that really performed. Development (apart from the source) was out in the open, and exciting.
Gladiator wasn’t around for too long, but new signature-based antivirus applications began sprouting up every month. Avira, Avast, Spybot Search & Destroy – all with free versions, born to compete with the incumbent Norton AV.
Antivirus wasn’t the only tool you really needed in those days – the days before having a nice NAT firewall in front of your connection. Worms spread like wildfire using exposed operating systems directed connected to the internet, meaning if you wanted to be protected, you needed a firewall.
ZoneAlarm was a popular choice, so was the lightweight Kerio (now part of GFI’s solutions). My personal favourite was Sygate!
The personal firewall market pretty much died with the release of XP SP3, which included a built-in firewall. SP3 somewhat stemmed the flow of fast-spreading malware, at least the low-hanging fruit that relied on wide-open ports with flawed software running on them.
As with a lot of niche, hobbyist communities, the security software fan community has a habit of aiming for the perfect setup. It’s always been this way, with people trying various combinations of AV, firewall, anti-spyware and even white-listing applications in constant rotation – only to declare they have given up and now just use a suite that covers all bases from a major vendor.
Until the next week, that is 🙂