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How do I safely switch from one security tool to another?


I’ve had AVG, the free version, for years. In the last two weeks or so, even prior to my update a few days ago, I suddenly have to reload my Gmail several times a day because I get a notice telling me my Gmail connection is lost and it starts a countdown to reconnect and never succeeds so I have to reload. I use Chrome and my Chrome browser is now very slow where it went lickety-split before, as recent as two weeks ago.

Now I’ve read where you recommend Microsoft Security Essentials, so I figured I would go that route assuming AVG is what’s causing all the problems listed above. My question to Google got me nowhere. It seems the root of the problem can’t possibly relate it to Gmail or Chrome. Can you tell me the step-by-step instructions I need to follow to safely remove AVG and replace it with Microsoft Security Essentials? I don’t want to leave my computer exposed to threats while I make the changeover.

I want to start by saying that there are many possible reasons for the symptoms you are describing with Gmail and Chrome. The anti-malware tool is one, but it’s not the first one that comes to mind for me. So, while I’ll absolutely walk you through the steps to make the switch (they’re actually pretty simple), I will warn you that this may not resolve your problem.

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The update process

Step one is to download the anti-virus program you want to switch to.

In many cases, it’s a single download, and that’s ideal for the preferred approach we’re about to take. Download it; don’t run it. That means you “Save As” if you’re prompted by your browser or right-click on the download link and choose Save As. Save the download somewhere you’ll remember, perhaps your Downloads folder or your My Documents folder.

Next, shut down most of the programs running on your PC. In other words, close your browser, your word processor, your email program, your game: whatever it is you’re normally running when you’re using your computer.

Data data and more networked data...This next step I consider optional, and that’s disconnecting from the internet. Unplug the cable or disable the Wi-Fi if you can. This will make certain that while we’re switching things around there’s simply no chance of outside interference.

It may not be necessary if you have proper security in place, but I’ll talk about that in a minute. Some actually consider it a little too extreme, and as we’ll see in a moment there are scenarios in which being disconnected will actually cause what we’re trying to do not to work, but it does provide absolute security.

Now, uninstall your existing security software completely. In most cases, that means simply going to your Control Panel; looking for Ad/Remove or Programs and Features; right clicking on the security software in the list, and then clicking Uninstall.

In some cases, anti-malware software can be a tad trickier to uninstall. You might need to run a tool like Revo Uninstaller; or perhaps follow some manufacturer-specific steps or run a tool that you get from the manufacturer. And that might mean temporarily connecting back to the internet to get things like Revo or that specific tool. But ultimately, the goal here is to remove, completely, your existing security software.

The next step, of course, then is to install the replacement. Locate that file you downloaded earlier and run it. That should install your anti-malware tool and start it running. Now, if you’ve disconnected from the internet, it’s possible that it might complain about the lack of connectivity, and there are a couple of reasons that might happen.

One is that the program you downloaded might be what’s called a stub or a downloader. There’s really no way around this. You simply need to connect to the internet to allow that little stub to download the actual anti-malware tool.

The other thing of course is that the program will at some point complete the installation, and it will start to look to the internet to update its database of malware. This is actually good because it’s exactly what I’d expect it to do. In either case, the thing to do is to connect back to the internet and let the software do its job.

Once that’s complete, you’re done. You now have new security software.

Is disconnecting really necessary?

Now, as you can see, there’s this possibility of a window in time where you connected to your internet but the new program hasn’t completed installing or hasn’t yet completed its own update or initial scan. As long as you have two things in place, I believe that’s okay.

One, you should be behind a firewall: your router or the Windows firewall being turned on will typically be more than enough to meet this requirement. And second, don’t do anything else while the switch is in progress. In fact, allow the software to finish its installation, download its update, and complete its initial scan of your machine before you open other programs.

Those two things combined – being behind a firewall and not using the computer for anything else until the switchover is complete – are typically more than enough to let you perform the entire operation with the internet connected.

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7 comments on “How do I safely switch from one security tool to another?”

  1. That “window in time” when you’re connected to the internet but are not protected yet by an anti-malware program also occurs when you’re setting up a brand new PC. Even if the PC comes with a pre-installed anti-malware software, you probably still need to first go online to register (or at the very least download the latest antivirus definitions, which can take a while) before you can use the software. The situation is worse/riskier if you decide to first go through the initial, lengthy Windows update before installing the anti-malware software. I wish there was a way to avoid being unprotected for a not-so-insignificant period of time while setting up a new PC.

  2. Perhaps this over cautious but I would recommend rebooting a PC after uninstalling software especially when you are installing a replacement.

  3. I had a similar experience with a laptop running Win8.1, supplied by a well-known OEM. It came with a well-known anti-malware product installed, but I wanted to use MSE (now called Windows Defender) instead. I could not start MSE, and eventually tracked down that the anti-malware product was preventing MSE startup. After a lot of mucking around, I finally managed to un-install the blocking product, at least enough of it to allow MSE to start.

    Apparently, this is standard practice these days. OEM’s are apparently paid big bucks by third-party s/w providers to install additional junk software, and make it difficult to use another product, instead. Totally un-ethical in my opinion.

  4. Some security software companies have their own special uninstall tools. Not using the tool (or not following the company’s specific uninstall instructions) could make it impossible to install a new product. SingularLabs has a fairly extensive list of company specific uninstall tools as well as links to specific uninstall procedures.

    • Uninstalling a program using the Control Panel’s Add/Remove programs runs the uninstaller which is supplied by the program’s maker, so there’s usually no need to look for a special uninstall tool elsewhere, unless for some reason, the uninstall program doesn’t show up in the Add/Remove Programs list. Essentially, Add/Remove Programs can be looked as a list of shortcuts to the programs’ own uninstallers.

      See the “What if it’s not in Control Panel?” box in this article.

      • Using McAfee as just one example, they specifically say to use Control Panel’s Add/Remove feature and then use the McAfee Consumer Product Removal tool (MCPR) to remove data COMPLETELY for a McAfee Security product installation on a supported Windows operating system. This kinda, sorta infers that the Windows Add/Remove feature may not completely remove McAfee and those left behind files could adversely affect re-installing McAfee or installing a new product.

        Other security software products have similar tools. Maybe in a majority of cases using the Add/Remove feature will be enough. But if one cannot install a new security product, what harm is there in looking for a specific uninstall tool?


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