Malware

What to do when a client won't properly license antivirus

Many clients believe that installing free consumer-grade antivirus applications is a good idea. Here's what you should say to convince them that's not the case.

Based on the current results of a recent TechRepublic IT Consultant poll, 80% of 675 respondents have been asked by clients to install unlicensed software. Antivirus software is almost certainly one of the leading culprits.

There's much confusion regarding antivirus licensing, which deserves its own review when discussing some clients' resistance to properly licensing software. The preponderance of free consumer-grade antivirus applications leads many clients to believe installing the software is a good idea. There are several reasons why installing free antivirus in a business, nonprofit organization, or other commercial firm is a more than just a bad idea.

It's illegal

Antivirus companies add to the confusion by making free versions of their software available. Many clients are unaware that the free antivirus applications cannot be installed in commercial companies, nonprofit agencies, or other business organizations. Read the licensing terms within almost every free antivirus application, including those from AVG and Microsoft, and you'll see that those programs cannot be loaded in those environments.

The applications are deliberately crippled

Free antivirus applications are not the same editions as their paid, commercial counterparts. Take AVG Antivirus Free, for example; the AVG Antivirus Professional edition adds rootkit protection and much more granular control over scanning schedules. In short, you get what you pay for with antivirus.

You forfeit support

When an antivirus platform stumbles in an attempt to remove an infection or introduces some system-halting incompatibility, someone's in for a world of hurt if the offending software is a free edition. It's difficult enough to reach knowledgeable technical support representatives for a paid software product. Here's hoping you have an image backup from which to recover. You're going to need it.

What you should do

You have an obligation to the software vendors, as well as your reselling relationships, to honor the terms of antivirus manufacturers' licensing agreements. That means you can't install free antivirus when it's inappropriate to do so.

Here's what you should do when a client won't properly license antivirus:

  • Educate clients. Point out within licensing terms windows the wording stating the application can't be installed in their environment.
  • Tout paid versions' benefits. Remind clients that the paid versions offer critical advantages -- including customizable configuration, additional scanning engines, more frequent and immediate updates, etc. -- over their free cousins.
  • Review costs. Review with clients the costs of a single infection. Considering that paid versions are much more likely to detect and quarantine infections, total the expenses that arise when a system must be cleaned. In addition to downtime resulting from the system being unusable (and the corresponding lost revenue), don't forget to calculate the costs of having to disinfect the system or wipe it and reload not only the operating system but applications and the user's data.
  • Explain you're precluded. Tell clients the truth. Inform them that, if your office participates in improperly licensing or installing antivirus, your office could lose its reseller status.
  • Discuss worst-case scenarios. If all else fails, review a worst-case scenario. Ask the client to consider what would happen to their organization if critical donor, customer, patient, client and/or employee data were to be released to unauthorized parties, and then that release were to become public knowledge, as the result of a virus or Trojan infection that could have been foreseeably prevented simply by properly licensing antivirus software.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

16 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Why would you treat an anti-virus app differently from any other? If it's free for personal but not corporate use, or if it's single-seat being installed multiple times, the purpose of the app shouldn't make any difference in terms of license compliance.

Justin James
Justin James

I gotta wonder where you keep digging up these clients that are such skinflints that they refuse to pay $50/workstation for A/V. If I had a client base like that, I'd wonder if they were going to pay my invoice! J.Ja

SKDTech
SKDTech

I have yet to encounter this in the business world but I don't know how anyone with half a braincell could think it would be a good idea to use security software which has been pre-broken for their convenience. use a free AV or pay the money, trust me it is worth the cost in most cases.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... is especially stupid, considering that there are some good cost-free alternatives that can be used by corporate clients, such as ClamAV. It's GPL-licensed, but you're not building a product on it, so it should be OK for corporate clients to use.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

I think the first answer to the question of what difference does it make if the app is AV is, since vendors make free antivirus versions, many businesses believe it is OK to install those versions in commercial environments. I haven't seen free versions of Adobe Creative Suite, for example. We do see free versions of AVG and Avast all the time, however. The second answer is we see AV pirated more often than any other type of software application. And, in most cases, the client isn't even aware that they're violating a license agreement. I think those are the two reasons AV requires special treatment. Good question, though, certainly.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Unfortunately, we see a lot of firms that have been managed improperly by the previous IT providers. Many clients have been told they can reinstall Microsoft OEM Office licenses and free antivirus applications by the previous providers, so in addition to having to tackle the technical issues we're engaging in educational efforts, too.

Justin James
Justin James

... it's well known to not be any good. Likewise for SpamAssassin as a spam filter... Sadly, I've yet to see a really good open source anti-virus or spam solution out there suitable for commercial use (ie: ties into Exchange, works right on a Windows server, etc.). J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...we see AV pirated more often than any other type of software application." The apps people rely on for protection can't protect themselves. I don't use a lot of freeware but of those I've tried, many are free only for personal use. I don't think any of them are free for business. Maybe Linux itself and whatever we're calling OpenOffice these days; I don't have either at the moment so can't check.

Justin James
Justin James

That's really sad. Not only does it make your job harder, because the customers are wondering why things are so much more expensive when they work with you, but it means that you have to lose a lot of time to things that don't generate billable hours. Ever consider reporting these other consultants to organizations like the BSA, SPA, etc? J.Ja

dansakic
dansakic

If you had not noticed yet, the user to whom you are replying makes it a habit of posting criticism and seldom if ever constructive information, feel free to ignore him.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

I couldn't have said it better. You're spot on: time wasters who value neither your time and have no desire to understand copyright issues are people you don't want to do business with.

tbmay
tbmay

...I feel your pain. Sometime the previous "IT Provider" is a crook. Sometimes he/she/they is/are not up on licensing themselves. Sometimes the client lies about who told them it's OK. I literally have had one business relatively recently tell me they were going back to their previous provider because they "couldn't afford" all that software licensing I was talking about. And another did the same, but simply didn't vocalize it, a few years ago. Since the last discussion we had was about the need for them to properly license software, it was obvious why they left. I have a very simple policy. I don't support bootlegged software. Period. Don't be so quick to assume their IT providers told them wrong though. IT, as I'm sure you know, is the quickest, easiest scapegoat for everyone's ills. And given any teenager who can click a mouse can call himself a consultant, it's not hard to find someone who will do what you want for very little money. Oh so often Joe BusinessOwner is conveniently unaware of software licensing. I've been evolving my business to rid myself of these folks though. Time wasters who value neither your time and have NO DESIRE to understand copyright issues are people you don't want to do business with. I'd rather not get the call to being with. The truth is IT's ubiquity makes it a very tough way to earn a living. Add doing it as an independent consultant to the mix and it's beyond tough. I sure don't encourage kids to get in to this business, either as an employee or a private businessman.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Justin, I believe it's a function of providing IT services to a broad range of small and medium size businesses. What's interesting to me is how many show evidence that the previous IT provider told them incorrect information. I understand the client's confusion, in that respect. Maybe if other IT practitioners were more professional and knew what they were doing, the problem wouldn't be as pervasive.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Oh, it's billable. Time spent on the client site, whether performing repairs, spotting errors, or providing advice and recommendations, is typically billed by most IT consultants. Our office is no different. We believe there's value in our knowledge, expertise and experience.

seanferd
seanferd

Point me to an example or two, if you please. I find this rather hard to believe.

Justin James
Justin James

... if you go back to a recent discussion on this exact same topic a few weeks ago, I offered plenty of useful information. I'm just trying to figure out why Erik's consultancy seems to keep ending up with these clients who are simultaneously lawbreakers and skinflints. I know what it's like to be in the business that Erik is in, it's not easy to make a dollar. At the same time, it seems like his customer base is *really* bad. It's a tough bind. J.Ja

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