FixMeStick 2013 review

Has ransomware taken over your PC? Does malware prevent installing antivirus? Did a virus render Windows unbootable? Boot from the FixMeStick 2013 USB device and it will clean up the problem. It does a good cleanup job, and built-in remote assistance ensures a successful resolution.
Photo of FixMeStick 2013

Viruses and other malicious programs have access to all the same resources that Windows-based antivirus tools do, and that can be a problem. They can block installation of security software, hold your system for ransom, or even make Windows unbootable. Security experts avoid these problems by using a bootable Linux-based rescue CD. For ordinary folks, FixMeStick is a much better solution, and the 2013 edition is noticeably more effective than the first release of the product.

FixMeStick is a bootable USB device with powerful antivirus protection built in. Your $59.99 subscription lets you use it as often as you want to on three computers during any given month. That seems a reasonable limitation—without it a company could buy one device and use it to clean a thousand PCs. And customer support will help if you replace one computer with another and want to transfer protection. You can also buy an unlimited FixMeStick for $299. The hardware is identical; only the licensing differs.

Hazy Lab Results
None of the big independent testing labs have tested FixMeStick. As a hardware-based bootable device it just doesn’t fit their test methodologies. However, FixMeStick relies on antivirus technology from three vendors, and products from those three vendors do get tested. The results are conflicting.

As you can see in the chart below, Kaspersky gets top marks from every lab, with overall excellent results. Sophos participates with most of the labs and earns some good ratings and some just average. VIPRE’s lab results are just fair. I’m not sure how much light this sheds on FixMeStick, but the range of results is interesting. See How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests for more about the independent labs and their tests.

FixMeStick 2013 lab tests chart

Easy Start
In order to clean your system with a bootable rescue CD, you may need to download and burn an ISO image. Once you’ve booted from it, you’ll be confronted with an unfamiliar program, possibly non-graphical. While rescue CDs are effective, using them can be difficult for all but the most expert users.

FixMeStick is the exact opposite. If your system can still boot into Windows, you just stick the device into a USB slot. A tiny launcher utility on the drive starts automatically if you’ve enabled AutoPlay. If not, just launch it manually. When you click the button, the launcher configures Windows to boot from the FixMeStick and then reboots. Simple!

If the computer won’t boot into Windows, turn it off, insert the device, and power it up again. Depending on your configuration it may boot from FixMeStick right away. If not, customer support can walk you through the steps needed to enable USB boot.

Easy Operation
Once FixMeStick has booted, its operation is completely automatic. It starts by downloading any available updates for the program and its malware definitions. The updates get stored on the device itself, something that wouldn’t be possible with a rescue CD. Next it scans the system using antivirus engines from Sophos, Kaspersky, and GFI/VIPRE.

Of course, you can’t use the computer for anything else while FixMeStick is working. A note on the main screen suggests you take a break as the cleanup might take as long as “a few hours.” On my standard clean test system it finished a full scan in 40 minutes. Even the infested systems didn’t take more than an hour.

When the scan finishes, you can choose to review its findings or just go straight to the cleanup phase. The full report lists every malware trace along with the antivirus engines that found it and the name given by each engine.

After cleanup is complete and you boot back into Windows, a Web page opens offering you a chance to get help, leave feedback, or share your experience on social media.

Long-Distance Repair
That link to get help may well prove important, as I found out in testing. On several systems, FixMeStick wiped out one or more important Windows components, with symptoms ranging from no desktop to an endless musical cycle of login and logout.

If Windows won’t boot at all after cleanup, you can boot into the FixMeStick again and choose Undo Quarantine. That restores everything that was removed by the last scan. A better option, though, is to contact support and have them analyze and solve the problem remotely.

Getting remote support for the previous edition of FixMeStick was quite a chore. I had to open a Linux window, type in a series of arcane commands, download and install Firefox, download the remote assistance tool, and launch the tool.

With the current edition it’s ridiculously simple. Press the special key combination, wait until TeamViewer starts, then supply connection information to tech support via email or phone. For my test systems that lost essential files to FixMeStick’s cleanup, tech support identified the problem files and replaced them with clean copies.

I hit the same problem when testing Avira Antivirus Premium 2013 and BullGuard Antivirus 2013. Avira tech support identified the files that needed to be replaced, but all they could do was instruct me on making the repair manually. BullGuard’s support agent handled the replacement using an as-yet-unreleased bootable environment. The FixMeStick experience was by far the smoothest.

Improved Cleanup
In its first round of testing, FixMeStick detected 71 percent of the samples and scored 5.1 points. It left behind executable traces for 20 percent of those it detected, and quite a few of them were still running.

Things look a lot better for the 2013 edition. It detected 82 percent of my malware collection and scored 6.3 points. The top score among products tested with this same collection is 6.6; that score is shared by Norton AntiVirus (2013) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013.

FixMeStick did still leave behind some executable files, some of them running, but not as many as before. In addition, it doesn’t clean up any malware traces in the Registry, though Registry cleaning is on the roadmap for a future edition. For now, if FixMeStick finds anything to remove, you’ll want to follow up with a full scan by an effective free antivirus like Editors’ Choice AVG Anti-Virus FREE 2013.

FixMeStick is most closely comparable with cleanup-only tools like Comodo Cleaning Essentials and Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware Free 1.51, both of which were tested with my previous collection of malware samples. Comodo, our current Editors’ Choice for cleanup-only antivirus, scored 6.8 points in that test while MalwareBytes earned 6.4.

Not quite 40 percent of recent products detected all rootkit samples in the current malware collection. Both editions of FixMeStick fall in that group. The 2013 edition scored a healthy 9.2 points for rootkit removal while the initial edition left more than half the rootkits with their rootkit technology intact. That’s a big improvement. Its score of for rootkit removal is better than all other current products except Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2013) , which scored 9.4.

For an explanation of my testing technique, see How We Test Malware Removal.

FixMeStick 2013 malware removal chart

A Very Specific Solution
For some malware problems, a bootable antivirus tool is the only solution. Yes, many rescue CDs are free, but FixMeStick is vastly simpler to use. The built-in remote assistance is a nice touch, too.

On the other hand, FixMeStick doesn’t offer any ongoing realtime protection, and it doesn’t clean up malware traces in the Registry. You’ll definitely want another layer of protection. If you already blew your security budget on FixMeStick, consider AVG Anti-Virus FREE 2013, our Editors’ Choice for free antivirus. Of course you won’t go wrong picking Norton AntiVirus (2013) or Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013, our Editors’ Choice commercial antivirus winners.

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Specifications
Tech Support Email, web form, chat, and toll-free phone support.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7
Type Enterprise

Verdict
Has ransomware taken over your PC? Does malware prevent installing antivirus? Did a virus render Windows unbootable? Boot from the FixMeStick 2013 USB device and it will clean up the problem. It does a good cleanup job, and built-in remote assistance ensures a successful resolution.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc