Emsisoft Emergency Kit is a free portable antivirus that you can use as a secondary scanner or to disinfect PCs

Emsisoft Emergency Kit has been around for a long time and ranks high in my troubleshooting arsenal. It has been a while since it was reviewed on gHacks.

So, let’s take a tour of the latest version and I’ll also tell you how it helped me with a problem I ran into recently.

First, the basics: the emergency kit is available for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 or newer client and server versions including Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019. The download has a size of 326 Megabytes at the time of writing. The program comes as a self-extracting installer; it does not need to be installed but is extracted to a location when you execute it. You may then run the program from that location, even if it is on a USB drive.

Tip: any copy is set up to join the “Anti-Malware Network” automatically which includes “online processing of statistics on detected malware and program behavior”. You can turn this off in the Settings under Privacy.

Emsisoft Emergency Kit – The Interface

Emsisoft Emergency Kit

The “Start Emergency Kit Scanner.exe” is for the GUI version, which we will discuss here. Optionally, you can use the command line scanner should you want to. The interface of Emergency Kit consists of four sections:

  • Update
  • Scan
  • Quarantine
  • Logs

The Update option allows you to keep Emsisoft Emergency Kit and its virus-definitions up-to-date. You can see the time-stamp when the last update was done on the banner and may want to run a check for updates on first start to make sure virus definitions and program modules are up to date.

The Scan option is the heart of the program. There are 3 types of scans that you can run using Emsisoft Emergency Kit.

  • Quick Scan – This option scans all running programs for malicious activity.
  • Malware Scan – This scan checks the normal places in Windows, that are normally targeted by malware.
  • Custom Scan – This is the option you want to choose for scanning specific folders, partitions, and drives.

Select a scan to run it, and wait for the results screen to be displayed.  The Settings menu in Emergency Kit can be accessed just below the Scan banner. You can set it to detect potentially unwanted programs, use more system resources for scanning, and set a post-scan option (report, quarantine, report + shutdown, quarantine + shutdown). The options may be simple, but the scanning and malware removal process is very efficient; it might save your otherwise unobtainable data.

The Quarantine is the malware vault, where the program isolates any threats that were detected. You can use it to analyze the malware, delete the contents, or restore files. You can manually quarantine suspicious files using the “Add files” option.

emsisoft log blog news

The Logs section keeps a record of all scans that were run (including the results), updates that were completed, etc. The License option can be used to convert the freeware license to a paid one, if you decide to buy the real-time version of the program. There is a news ticker on the bottom (or middle right) of the antivirus’ interface which links to blog articles on the company’s website. They can be turned off with a click on “don’t show again”.

Emsisoft Emergency Kit – Usage

emsisoft upgrade prompt

Emsisoft Emergency Kit is a portable antivirus, you don’t have to install it on your computer. It can be used even if you have another antivirus installed on the computer, and the applications won’t conflict because Emergency Kit does not have a real-time protection feature.

By default, the program’s self-extractor places the content in the C:EEK folder. You can run the program to scan your PC for malware and disinfect it for free. You can copy this folder to a USB drive and use it to disinfect other computers as well. The best part of course, is that Emsisoft Emergency Kit is free.

Emissoft Emergency Kit displays a prompt when it finds suspicious files that suggests to install one of its core products that extends the functionality of the emergency kit on the device. The prompt makes no mention of the fact that agreeing to the installation installs a trial product, Emisoft Anti-Malware Home, that is available for a 30-day trial only; it needs to be uninstalled or purchased after that period. Emsisoft needs to make this clearer.

Note that you get that prompt each time you run a scan and anything is found. You will also get an exit-prompt when you close the application.

My personal experience with Emsisoft Emergency Kit

About a year ago, an elderly friend of mine asked me for assistance with his laptop. This was a Dell laptop which he brought from the US  and it had Windows 10 Home pre-installed. I don’t remember the model number but it had a touch screen.

He told me that sometimes he gets ads on the computer, even when the browser is not running. He didn’t want to wipe the drive, because it had a lot of important data.  I told him to format the drive later, as a precaution. The first thing I noticed, is that he hadn’t been using any antivirus on the laptop.

Note: Windows Defender is good for most users, but you need at least one extra tool to be safe, an ad-blocker. You’ll see why I say this.

This is how I approached the issue:

  1. Disabled the Wi-Fi on the laptop.
  2. Connected the charger and let the laptop sit for a while.
  3. After a while, I saw a pop-up screen.

I don’t have any photos or a screenshot of the malware, because I was more worried about helping him than to take pictures. But I distinctly remember the name of the malware, ReImagePlus. It is in fact, a rogue application. The laptop was painfully slow, and I was quite certain this was because of the malware. I had seen enough so I kept the laptop aside and copied the Emsisoft Emergency Kit folder from my PC to a USB Flash drive and transferred it to the laptop.

Surprisingly, I was able to uninstall the malicious program from the Control Panel. I checked the browser (Google Chrome) and found that the bookmarks bar on the top had multiple links to the rogue app so the browser had been hijacked as well. I didn’t have to guess how this happened, because I could see there was no ad-blocker installed.

I ran a malware scan using Emsisoft Emergency Kit: the program detected some remnants and disinfected them in the first scan. But when I ran a complete scan the antivirus discovered several copies of an EXE (all of which were named ReImage) in the downloads folder. I quarantined all the findings.

Now that the malware had been disinfected, I connected it to my Wi-Fi to download uBlock Origin and Malwarebytes. The browser redirected me to ReImagePlus, which wasn’t surprising considering it was hijacked. With my friend’s permission, I reset Chrome deleting all its data, installed uBlock Origin, and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. Further scans indicated the laptop was clean and it seemed to be faster as well. I advised him to run a scan using Emsisoft Emergency Kit and Malwarebytes once a month or so.

Another instance

I recommended Emsisoft Emergency Kit to another friend recently. Actually, he had just disinfected the laptop using Hitman Pro (also my recommendation) a few minutes ago. This malware (can’t find the name of it in the chat history)  had accessed his webcam.

He had noticed the light was on when the camera was not being used and we rushed to disinfect it. But I advised him to run scans using Emsisoft Emergency Kit and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware anyway.

This friend formatted the drive after disinfecting it and reinstalled Windows.

While we are on that topic, some malware persist after a Windows reinstall (though I have personally seen that happen over a decade ago), a full format on the other hand should wipe the infection, along with all the data on the drive. But, it is still better to tackle the malware head on, and disinfect the drive first, and try to recover some of your important data. Once done, you can (and in my opinion should) reinstall Windows after formatting the drive.

Now you: Which secondary scanner do you use?

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Avast Free Antivirus – An overview of its pros and cons

I installed Avast Free Antivirus on my laptop a few weeks ago, and here is an overview of its features.

Why isn’t this a review? Well, in my opinion an antivirus review should include serious malware tests and the detection rate, false positives, etc. Usually, those are done in virtual machines and on powerful computers.

Avast Free Antivirus - interface

Since I tested Avast Free Antivirus on my not-so-powerful laptop, I didn’t/couldn’t test real malware samples. It did block the EICAR test file, a few adware and malicious virus test web pages which I tested in Sandboxie instantly though.

Avast Free Antivirus - Eicar blocked

I also felt that real world usage is better anyway since I could get a first-hand experience of the program’s resource usage when I’m browsing, working, watching movies, etc. That’s also useful, instead of wondering whether the system is running slow because of the Antivirus or because the VM is using more RAM.

The Interface

Avast Free Antivirus - protection

Avast Free Antivirus has a user-friendly GUI with large icons which are properly labeled. The home screen. which is called Status, tells you whether the program’s modules are running fine. You can also run a “Smart Scan” from this screen.

The side-bar on the left is home to 3 more tabs: Protection, Privacy, and Performance.

The Protection tab has the following options

  • Virus Scans
  • Real Shield
  • Sandbox
  • Firewall
  • Ransomware Shield
  • Core Shields
  • Virus Chest

Out of these, only 3 (Virus Scans, Core Shields, Virus Chest) can be used in the free version, i.e., the rest are locked behind a paywall.

You can run a full virus scan, a targeted scan (only scans selected folders/drives), boot time scan and custom scans. The custom scan has 2 predefined options: a quick scan and smart scan.

You can customize the settings of each scan type to your liking: these options include scanning for potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), follow links during a scan, test whole files, scan archives, and more.

You can set scans to run automatically at a time and date that you select using the built-in task scheduler. You can find more advanced options in the settings screen in Avast Free Antivirus.

Core Shields

There are 4 shields in Avast Free Antivirus.

  • File Shield scans any file that you access.
  • Behavior Shield monitors applications for suspicious activity and blocks malicious ones.
  • Web Shield blocks web attacks and downloads that could be malware.
  • Mail Shield scans your email attachments for malware, and blocks them. Use the Avast Free Antivirus settings menu to customize how the shields work.

Virus Chest

This is the quarantine in Avast Free Antivirus. You can delete detected items or exclude them from being flagged again.

This is where the good stuff basically ends.

Privacy and Performance

Both these tabs are completely unnecessary for the program to work. I’ll explain why.

The Privacy tab has options for –

  • Avast SecureLine VPN
  • Webcam Shield
  • AntiTracking Premium
  • Sensitive Data Shield
  • Data Shredder

Avast Free Antivirus - privacy

Of these,  only SecureLine VPN can be used for free and it installs the company’s VPN client. The others are premium features. Unless I’m mistaken, SecureLine VPN does not support a free tier. The website of the product highlights a 7-day free trial but there are only paid options available.

Performance

This has a Driver Updater. You know what that means: stay away from it. There is a Do Not Disturb Mode which some may find useful but I prefer to be alerted when something is blocked.

Avast Free Antivirus - performance

 

Avast Free Antivirus – An overview of its pros and cons

The Pros

Avast Free Antivirus - wicar blocked

The antivirus’ interface is bloated for sure but still manages to be user friendly. I didn’t have any trouble locating specific features.

The color scheme and the large icons are perhaps what gives it a ‘”heavy look”. I ran scans when using the computer, and I’m happy to say that the scans were mostly fast. I did not notice any major impact on the system resources even during scans.

Despite the browser extension being disabled, Avast instantly detected and blocked malicious web pages which I visited on purpose. So, it does perform well as expected.

The Cons

This might take a while. The freemium experience in Avast Free Antivirus is really in-your-face. Avast wants your money and it isn’t shy to ask for it.

There is a large banner on the main screen which says “Thanks for joining Avast”. Here’s a welcome gift to boost your computer’s security. Unwrap it. Clicking unwrap opens a pop-up which shows discounted prices for the premium versions of the program; there is no way to disable this banner.

Advanced issues

The Scan results are displayed in 2 sections: Viruses and malware, which shows the actual result, and Advanced issues.

Avast Free Antivirus - scan result

There were 3 advanced issues that Avast detected:

  • 3 primary folders are vulnerable to advanced ransomware
  • You have only a basic firewall
  • You’re vulnerable to fake websites

Avast Free Antivirus - advanced issues

The resolve all option shows the “fix”. You are asked to buy a commercial version of Avast software to fix these issues on your device.

The method is used by scareware applications to get users to pay for software to fix issues but it is not as bad as those as Avast does not display fake or useless findings to get users to pay for an upgrade.

Privacy Risks

Avast Free Antivirus - privacy risks

You do have an option to skip for now. But clicking that displays a pop-up with privacy risks.

It shows some information such as your IP address and your location, and recommends using Avast’s VPN to protect your personal information. A “Start your free trial” pop-up also appears, giving you an option to try the premium features for free.

Bizarre Webcam Shield Test

Once, I got a pop-up from Avast Free Antivirus telling me that my webcam could be at risk. It asked me to allow the program to access the camera and after I did, it told me this is what a hacker can see. Hey, that’s a cool trick Avast, asking permission to use the webcam and telling me its vulnerable.

In case you missed it earlier, the Webcam shield test is one of the premium features. These deceptive methods to trick the user into buying a product, is what we refer to scareware tactics, something which is often used by rogue antivirus programs.

Pop-ups

These are by far the most annoying issues in Avast. In the first few days of usage, a pop-up told me “We have a gift for you to unwrap”. Another one said “We added “MPV” to do not disturb, enjoy. This happened when I was watching a movie on MPV. When I was chatting on Telegram, it told me it had been added to do not disturb. You get it, right?

Silence is golden, Avast. Sshhh!

Email-signature

You may have read my previous article about this. This “feature” can be disabled.

Closing Words

This article may sound like a rant, but it isn’t. I’m merely describing my experience with the antivirus. I just wanted to tell users who haven’t used Avast what they can expect from it.

As an Avast fan who used it many years ago, I went in expecting a nostalgic experience and it was anything but. That being said, if Avast can clean up the interface and the pop-ups to let the user actually use it for free, instead of pushing the paid versions, I will gladly recommend it to everyone.

Will I recommend Avast Free Antivirus to users?

It depends. If you can tolerate all the cons I mentioned, you will find that underneath the deceptive web spun by corporate greed a good antivirus does exist. Just make sure to avoid all the extra stuff the antivirus tries to throw in during the installation, i.e., the browser extension or software updater.

Though the freemium experience is annoying, the majority of these are noticeable only when you open the Avast interface. That can easily be avoided. The pop-ups happen occasionally and I haven’t noticed any for the past few days. So, maybe it quiets down after a while?

Personally, I’m going back to Kaspersky Free Antivirus on my laptop, which I had been using since it was launched (until I installed Avast two weeks ago). If you have Windows 10, you can stick to Windows Defender, it is very good. I have heard good things about Bitdefender Free Antivirus as well, if you need another alternative. Use whatever antivirus you want, but regardless of what you choose, add a reliable ad-blocker, browser, and a secondary scanner to the mix. I prefer Firefox + uBlock Origin, Malwarebytes,  Emsisoft Emergency Kit and Glasswire.

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