Where is Your Antivirus Made?

Category: Anti-Virus

Recently, I ran across a new free antivirus program that scored well on Virus Bulletin’s detection tests. I was about to download it for a thorough review when I discovered it’s made in China. That got me thinking: does it really matter where antivirus software is made? Are the good guys who defend us against bad guys all completely good? Can we trust them implicitly just because they make antivirus software and get it tested by independent labs? Well, it seems we do. But should we? Read on...

Is Your AntiVirus Made in China?

The new anti-virus software that I came across is called Tencent PC Manager, even though it doesn’t cost a dime. But I hesitated when I saw that it was made in China. So I did a little digging, to find out where the other popular internet security tools come from. The results of my trip around the world may surprise you...

Bloomberg News recently published an article suggesting that Moscow-based antivirus developer Kaspersky Lab is a tool of Russia’s FSB, the equivalent of the USA’s National Security Agency. As rather weak “evidence,” Bloomberg claims that founder/CEO Eugene Kaspersky shares a public sauna with Russian spies; replaced a top executive with someone who was drafted into the Russian border patrol years ago; and ordered the company’s Japanese distribution partner to destroy retail packaging that used the untruthful slogan, “A Specialist in Cryptography from KGB.” The implication is that you can’t trust Kaspersky security products; they might very well be spying for the Russian government.

AntiVirus Map

Eugene Kaspersky destroyed Bloomberg’s article on his blog, pointing out numerous errors that could have been avoided easily. His implication, serious or not, is that Bloomberg is the NSA’s tool, attacking Kaspersky Lab for its part in exposing NSA-sponsored cyberespionage campaigns.

Other antivirus software is made in countries that are not exactly staunch allies of the USA. Tencent is China’s biggest Internet services and software provider. But when it comes to spying, no country is off-limits to any other country. BitDefender is Romanian. Avast comes from the Czech Republic. Avira and GDATA are made in Germany. AVG is Dutch. Trend Micro is based in Tokyo. Bullguard and Comodo are British. Checkpoint comes from Israel. ESET is Slovakian. Their governments are as likely to spy on friends and foes alike as Russia or China.

If you insist on an American-made antivirus program, there's PC Matic, which proudly advertises that fact in television commercials. McAfee, Norton, Fortinet, Webroot and Vipre are also based in the USA. Oh, and of course, you have Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender (included in Windows 8). If you want both FREE and made-in-America, Fortinet's FortiClient and the two Microsoft products mentioned above are the only freebies I know of that meet those criteria.

Who Can You Trust?

Which antivirus software provides the best protection? AV-Comparatives is one independent security software testing organization that attempts to answer that question. See my article Which AntiVirus Protects You Best? for my summary of their most recent report, and links to the details.

According to Edward Snowden, the busiest busybody on Earth is the good old USA. And truth be told, unless the source code is available for scrutiny, we have no assurances that even "Made in America" antivirus products aren't keeping tabs on what we do online. I don't have reason to believe that any of them are, but that's just the nature of proprietary software.

So “country of origin” is not necessarily a useful litmus test of antivirus software’s trustworthiness. My hesitancy over Tencent’s Chinese heritage was an kneejerk association of “Chinese” with “hackers.” China is the number-one source of hacker attacks upon U. S. computers, but it’s unclear how many of those hackers work for the Chinese government, let alone Tencent.

As Eugene Kaspersky explains in his blog post, trust is dependent upon transparency. “We’ve nothing to hide,” he wrote, “we’re in the security business and to be successful in it you have to be open to scrutiny.” Kaspersky software’s source code is made available to large customers; if there were any backdoors or spyware in it, they would have been exposed long ago.

As for the likelihood that your antivirus software is "phoning home" any of your personal or private data to the corporate mothership, you could install a firewall that monitors for or blocks outbound data flows. But that requires a few geek badges.

The average consumer hasn’t the time or expertise to thoroughly examine source code, or analyze outbound data packets. But it’s pretty easy to learn if an antivirus developer has submitted its products to independent testing labs such as AV Comparatives, AV Test, or Virus Bulletin. If not, I would steer clear of it.

For the present, I'll continue to use my free Avast antivirus software. The company has offices in the Czech Republic, Germany, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and (whew) the United States of America. What's your opinion? Is the geographic origin of your antivirus software important to you? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Where is Your Antivirus Made?"

(See all 53 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Mike
22 Apr 2015

I just installed 2015 Panda Free Anti-Virus which comes from Spain. It was PC Mag's recent #1 pick for free AV software. Have been a long time Avast user but recently my PC got infected so thought I would try something different. Just gotta be careful.


Posted by:

FormalDaHyde
23 Apr 2015

After reading this post, and seeing an AV comparo link in BillMullins blog, I had posted a comment at his neat WordPress blog about your article. I noticed today that he has provided a link to your page...


Posted by:

SandyJ
26 Apr 2015

Has anyone heard of that mysterious organization called NSA? Can you really believe American-made software of any kind is more secure when the NSA apparently has extra-constitutional powers?


Posted by:

Roy
27 Apr 2015

Well, I suppose that the USA and the UK would have just as much reason to keep on eye on their nationals, so made in the USA or made in the UK wouldn't mean a thing as far as who is spying on who is concerned. I have used Bullguard for many years and through many versions. And the reason? It was used by Waitrose when they were my internet service provider. Waitrose is a brand name I trust and so I stuck with the antivirus software they recommended.
Mind, if GCHQ and the FBI would find copies of our minister's Sunday Sermon interesting to read and copies of pictures of the trees coming into bud in Toronto interesting they are most welcome to that. They could email me and I will forward them copies saving the trouble of breaking into my computer.


Posted by:

Dave
22 May 2015

Sophos - English / UK.


Posted by:

Clairvaux
23 May 2015

It is actually a fact that Kaspersky is very close to the Russian security services (FSB and SVR), and not for the very anecdotal reasons given in the Bloomberg article.

If I remember correctly (but do check this), its founder was himself a Russian spy, or at least went to the KGB school. At times, they have whole teams of FSB people working inside their facilities. Those facts, and others, have been published by an authoritative source which I don't remember right now, but you'll find it if you look for it.

Kaspersky does not deny that closeness. What they say is that it does not affect the reliability of their products. They point out that they advise several foreign governments about computer security, and that they would not be able to do that if they compromised their clients on behalf of Russia's secret services.

Of course, we do know on the other hand that Russia is a ruthless practicioner of cyberwar, electronic eavesdropping on foreign states and corporations, theft of industrial and economic secrets, and disinformation. Various fronts are used for such "active measures", the official Russian name for those activities. Strange as it may seem, it's still possible that Kaspersky sells safe products and has a very close relationship with FSB and SVR.


Posted by:

cliff
23 May 2015

Paranoia much?


Posted by:

Blake McFeely
26 May 2015

Sorry, missed ESET.


Posted by:

Lyrx
29 May 2015

I've wondered for 20 years if anti-virus products were made by the same people who produce viruses. In addition, they are so resourceful and knowledgeable that a backdoor would be hard to detect. Those who access the internet with their unsecured phones should really be scared of an internet Armageddon.


Posted by:

Bob Jamison
07 Jun 2015

I use Kingsoft antivirus on 2 of my computers. While I have not detected any virus's since using it, I'm worried about all the Chinese attacks. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this product. I also use Windows defender on my third computer and I've noticed that it is the only one that I have received the Windows 10 update reservation on. Wondering if this is coincindence or what. All 3 are Windows 10 compatible. I would appreciate any thoughts or information.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think the choice of anti-virus has anything to do with it. Try going to Windows Update and loading KB3035583.


Posted by:

Dennis Messer
14 Dec 2015

Eugene Kaspersky's comments on transparency while valid don't really alleviate my overarching concerns.
While I am not a card carrying member of the tinfoil hat brigade, I do still think they have some points.
Here is my thought on foreign AV vendors. I think that they have every intention of being 100% above board, and I am sure they are today.
But... lets assume the USA gets into a more serious militaryish action with someone, lets say that it degenerates to full blown war, It would be fairly trivial for said foreign government to get into one of these legitimate firms within its borders and push some nasty code via updates and have that code go out instantly to target customers, either a whole country, or a specific group. Possibly even without the legit company knowing its occurring.

While this sounds far fetched, its not impossible. And while full blown war is fairly unlikely, the cyber skirmish between the USA and China may heatup in the next decade or so.

In my mind it only makes sense to be very aware of the country of origin for software. Especially non-security software, which doesn't get the same scrutiny.
I am not saying always avoid, but I am saying pay attention and judge your own level of risk you are willing to make.

Lots of what if's here, and having said that I run Kaspersky at home at My office, so I am not that worried. But it certainly bears some consideration.


Posted by:

tom
02 Apr 2016

hi, I would like to know if there is a us based antivirus company and it being free that has a tech support in the us also, I mean I want to talk to a American tech agent ?, I plan getting a paid version soon though ! a basic set it and forget it company also, thanks


Posted by:

Jean
30 Apr 2016

Bought McAfee which is supposedly a US Company, but spent almost an hour on the phone to download the software (got Microsoft first, then had to be transferred to Apple, and they had to refund my money for the Microsoft version). All the phone calls and transfers took place in the Phillippines. I won't buy another product until the corporations start "manufacturing" their products in the US. I don't think these corporations should be able to sell in the US if they don't make the product in the US. Are there any anti-virus programs produced in the US with the help desk in the US?


Posted by:

steve
24 Jul 2016

I have tried a lot of different anti virus/firewalls and Microsoft security with Malware bytes paid version and a good browser like firefox is all you need as it does not bog down your
computer.
Now if you go to questionable web sites you always run a risk of intrusion no matter what security you use.


Posted by:

steve
24 Jul 2016

Follow up to my last note. There is a free online mcafee scan online to recheck your computer so you can make sure your free version has not missed anything. I do that recheck and I have not found anything. So even if Microsoft is not the best it works fine with malware bytes in protecting you.


Posted by:

Robert
07 Nov 2016

Yes, indeed! The geographic origin of my av software is very important to me. I want to support a strong America as it used to be. Not "American" globalists who are really fascists, unwilling to stand up to an intrusive, swinelike BIG govt, not at all what our Founding Fathers and our Creator intended.

I'm looking for American companies or corporations, with USA based customer support. And i don't mean H1B visa foreign workers who are used to lower costs, but also lower American wages and have made it difficult for college graduates with computer related degrees to quickly find a job, if that's what they want. Do you know of any like that currently, Bob?


Posted by:

Benny
22 Nov 2016

I have one rule and that is not to buy or subscribe to anything Made in China. Although there products are cheap it really does not matter to me. To defeat them the world needs to know that the reason why they are flexing their muscles now is because there are a lot that buys Made in China products. I wouldn't if i were you. Let's admit it. They are now a very rich nation and are a threat to us. Their aim is to muscle their way in.


Posted by:

TucsonJim
17 Dec 2016

No country in the world has any laws to protect the citizens of any other nation, but legal protections don't always help you. Companies like Symantec have admitted to working with the FBI to assure their products never catch the FBI's keyboard logger, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Lantern_(software) as violating our Forth Amendments rights has become sadly routine for America's laws (hello PATRIOT Act). Every copy of say Windows that leaves the US has been widely known to contain a backdoor to the NSA. It was due to this that the governments of at least Germany and China discussed banning Windows from their countries - only to decide their economy was already too dependent. But, the city of Munich, Germany migrated all of it's desktops, as did the German Foreign Office and others, to Unix. What used to be the #1 firewall in America, CheckPoint (banned from NSA networks), managed their leadership despite having a backdoor to the Israeli Mossad (due to coming from an Israeli company). CheckPoint is no longer a serious market leader. #1 today is an American company headquartered in Sunnyvale: Fortinet. It would be naive to believe the nation of origin of those companies didn't play a part in the reversal.

Just as it would be foolish for any American to use a non-American anti-virus, it would be equally foolish for anyone living outside of the United States to use one from an American company. The Sun Microsystems security software completely came from groups of old Russian hackers and yet there was never been any discussion concerning the real dangers as Sun was always a major contributor to security conferences and magazines. Such has been likewise allowed in every other industry - that leaders are routinely able to dominate the research and dictate trends. I live in Tucson, AZ. Tucson may be the top target of military attacks on this country from China. We are the country's top producers of meth and spice. It comes from Mexico where the chemicals are subsidized by China. Google it. You'll find such claims made in major US newspapers and TV shows. Of course, attacks are going to be done digitally as well. Russia has just been identified as taking the leadership role in digital attacks from Chine. You'll also find articles mention that an American asking for a business room in Europe (even before the Internet) will likely have their hotel room bugged. Similarly, the primary use of American spy networks in Europe seek technological rather than military secrets. It's why all of the spy laws created in the US over the past two decades have names like the ECONOMIC Espionage Act of 1996. Why would anyone take such risks with anti-virus software specifically meant to help you mitigate risk? It's silly.


Posted by:

TucsonJim
17 Dec 2016

UPDATE: Russia has just been identified as taking the leadership role in digital attacks (OVER China). For example, the U.S. Intelligence Community’s 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment report claimed Russia and China are the "most sophisticated nation-state actors" in the new generation of cyber warfare and that Russian hackers have been identified as leading in terms of sophistication, programming power, and inventiveness.


Posted by:

Diane W
12 Apr 2017

Thanks for you comments, TucsonJim; however I'm not able to find where Fortinet is in the personal computer security industry. I'm looking for a decent security system. I currently have Advanced System Care and lately they are spamming me more than anyone else and their driver program keeps uninstalling my video drivers. I seriously need to replace this program (I think also known as IOBIT).

I'm willing to pay for a good program, I just don't want it to turn on me and become worse than the problems I'm trying to prevent.


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