What is Cloud-Based Antivirus?

Category: Security

What is cloud antivirus? I've heard about a new kind of security software that runs in the cloud, instead of on my computer. Can you explain what this means, and if I should consider this as a replacement or addition to my existing anti-virus protection?

Should You Use Cloud-Based Antivirus?

Cloud-based antivirus technology is a relatively new strategy in the war against malware -- viruses, spyware and other nasty software. Security researcher Lenny Zeltser defines cloud antivirus as "anti-malware technology that uses lightweight agent software on the protected endpoint, while offloading the majority of data analysis to the provider's infrastructure."

Let's put that in simpler terms. Normally, your antivirus software takes the form of a rather large software package that you install and run on your computer. But cloud antivirus software is split into two parts -- a small "agent" that runs on your computer, and the antivirus "engine" that exists on a server, somewhere on the Internet. And that's the essence of all these "cloud based" services you're hearing about. For most practical purposes, it means moving your files and/or software from your local hard drive to an online location.
Cloud-based Antivirus

Like other cloud technologies, cloud antivirus lightens the processing load on the user's computer. The agent software merely calculates and transmits information about files on the local system; it's the central server that does the heavy work of analyzing this information to detect malware threats.

Advantages of Cloud Antivirus Technology

The central server receives information from all of the cloud AV product's users, who may number in the millions. So with many reporting points, new malware is discovered and can be countered much faster. The main antivirus engine resides on the provider's server, so it is not vulnerable to attacks by malware that infects the end user's machine. Also, since the antivirus engine is not generally available, malware authors cannot analyze it to figure out how to disable or defeat it.

Another upside for cloud-based AV services is that the database of antivirus signatures is constantly updated on the central server. Cloud AV doesn't have to rely on end users to download and install updated databases, or wait until such database updates are compiled and pushed out to the end users. As soon as the signature database is updated on the server (or "in the cloud") it's immediately available to all users.

Panda Cloud Antivirus was the first cloud AV service launched, in 2009. Other cloud AV services soon followed, including Immunet, and McAfee Security as a Service. Many other antivirus software developers have incorporated cloud-based technology into their more traditional desktop AV programs.

You might wonder how effective cloud-based anti-virus can be if your Internet connection goes down. Cloud AV proponents acknowledge this vulnerability, but argue that it's offset by the fact that you are unlikely to be exposed to malware when you are disconnected from the Internet. Panda Cloud Antivirus' agent program stores a copy of the latest threat data on your computer, and can perform some antivirus functions even when you are offline.

Cloud antivirus technology is useful in many ways, but I'm not ready to recommend it as a full replacement for desktop antivirus protection. The good thing is that you can run cloud AV along with traditional desktop antivirus without bogging down your computer's performance. And you can try it for free. Both the Panda and Immunet services have a free version you can download.

Have you tried a cloud-based antivirus service? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 3 Nov 2011


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Most recent comments on "What is Cloud-Based Antivirus?"

Posted by:

Ron
03 Nov 2011

I have been using Panda Cloud Antivirus for several months. Just last week it did not avert a major infection with the Rootkit Zero Access and PMax Trojans. It did not even alert me of the fact that my laptop was infected with these 2 Trojans, while the laptop was seriously misbehaving because of them. Also, it did not generate an alert when the infecting/offending file initially ran. I had to spend several days to clean the laptop and I'm still dealing with the upshot of this very difficult to eradicate and nasty infection.

So although I was happy with Panda because of the small footprint and the minimal toll it exerted on my system, now I am unhappy with its limited detection and protection power. Yet, I'm not sure whether a resident antivirus would have done better.


Posted by:

bruce
03 Nov 2011

I have tried Vipre anti-virus and Panda at the same time and I noticed that my laptop was running really slow. it took almost 3 minutes to boot up to the desktop.
I uninstalled Panda leaving Vipre and the laptop booted up to the desktop in under 1 minute.

So I believe that there might have been a conflict between Panda and Vipre running at the same time.


Posted by:

Kim
03 Nov 2011

Hi Bob,
I had used a Beta cloud version called Webroot Secure Anywhere. It does work as a daemon and will alert you if any suspicious activity appears. I was very surprised when I had first downloaded and installed Malwarebytes onto my PC, the cloud-based antivirus alert had popped-up on my screen very quickly.
Thanks for the article.


Posted by:

Mike
03 Nov 2011

Had Panda Cloud in my computer for a short time with AVG Anti Virus and my avg recognized Panda Cloud as a virus. When i took Panda Cloud out of my system the virus was gone. As far as running it with other anti virus programs i do not think this is such a good idea. Try it with your anti virus program and see if they are compatible. If not you can uninstall it. I have the Panda Cloud on two computers and it seems to be working fine so far. Have a great day.


Posted by:

angusdhu
03 Nov 2011

I'm a pro pc repair guy ... I've been using Panda on my personal pc's (9) for 2.75 yrs, been installing it on customer's pc's for 2 ... no AV is sufficient in isolation, so I also install a pro (paid) copy of Malwarebytes in conjunction with Panda ... I have been infection free the entire time (I run multiple other scanners from time to time to verify, though only ONE at a time, my experience is poor with any two at a time) ... as have the huge majority of my customers ... my only problem has been the detection and removal of tools (correctly detected as dangerous) that I forget are on the drive I just plugged in ... .. just sayin'


Posted by:

Tom gretsch
03 Nov 2011

Re: Cloud Antivirus. thank you for the column, however the Panda is NOT free, they require you sign up or buy something from a 3rd party. The Immunet is totally free however.Keep up the good work.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not true. I installed Panda free version and didn't have any such conditions.


Posted by:

Frank Verano
04 Nov 2011

I've had Panda Cloud AV since it's inception and I don't even notice that it is running until it pops up to tell me something. I also have MSEE and Malwarebytes. So far every thing runs fine. I look at the Task Manager occasionally to see who is using what with respect to the CPU and Panda never overwhelms my system. Frank


Posted by:

Gyppo
04 Nov 2011

I've been using Panda AV since it was a beta. One of the very times in my life I've used a beta rather than let someone else run the risks first. It works just fine and without any fuss on my old XP Pro set-up.

I also have MalwareBytes and Spybot, which I run perhaps twice a week. Neither of which conflict with panda AV whilst running.

It's been a long time since anything nasty got onto my computer, but I am perhaps a bit more fussy than some abut the links I click. If something 'feels' funny I leave it alone or delete it. A healthy dose of cynicism is, after all, our first line of defence.

Gyppo


Posted by:

TheRube
04 Nov 2011

Hello Everyone.

Firstly to Mr. Rankin - - I am SO glad that you are keeping THIS newsletter. I look forward to everyone that you send to your loyal fans!
(I will be giving another donation shortly so that you can keep running it).

I have been giving Panda AV a chance on at least three occasions. Initially when I downloaded and installed it it worked very well. However, over time I noticed that the system became sluggish . . . that Scanning took longer than usual to complete!

The above notwithstanding I did like said product as it seemed to work well with the other anti-malware programs I have in my Windows 7 (64-bit) computer. I am more than willing to give Panda AV (Pro version) another shot once scan time is completed in a shortened manner.


Posted by:

Dane
04 Nov 2011

1. How much Internet bandwith does it take to scan all your files in the cloud?

2. Does it scan all files before they are opened?
Because McAfee scans the files as you work with them.

3. What if I receive an infected file from a collegue in our internal network, while the Internet connection (to Panda or all) is down for whatever reason (this is unlikly on a daily basis, but it happens once in a few months)


Posted by:

Rohan Wickramasinghe
05 Nov 2011

Thank you so much for this article, which was very interesting.


Posted by:

Glenn P.
06 Nov 2011

To Bob Rankin, who wrote:

"For most practical purposes, it means moving your files and/or software from your local hard drive to an online location."

Let me get this straight -- you want us Users to send our files and executables off into the ether to an unknown "Cloud Virus Scanner" company Out There on the Internet, in the hope that they won't then either (1) infect the files themselves, or (2) use the collective data obtained from all those files to spam us or otherwise invade our privacy or security. Is that correct, Sir? So O.K., I have a question: Are you insane?!?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I could be insane, but that has nothing to do with whether or not cloud-based storage and services are secure. For the record, I was not advising anyone to send all their files and programs anywhere. I was trying to give a simplified definition of cloud storage and cloud services. In the case of cloud-based antivirus services, your files and executables are not sent off to some online location to be examined. The local "agent" software examines the files, and with the assistance of a remote knowledge engine, determines if a threat exists.


Posted by:

Ken Driver
08 Nov 2011

I've been using Panda Cloud along side Avast anti virus for about a year and a half. Doesn't slow my browsing, and I'm sensitive to that, with my 1500k DSL connection. Panda Has gotten very good reviews from people testing it's ability to detect the most recent viruses, as does Avast.


Posted by:

jamesinvictoria
09 Nov 2011

Are there any cloud anti-virus providers for the Mac?


Posted by:

jamesinvictoria
10 Nov 2011

It was most difficult to find but Panda Cloud Anti-Virus has an edition for the Mac. If Bob will allow it here is a link to the Panda page it is shown on. You will need to scroll down as it is at the very end (almost).
http://www.pandasecurity.com/homeusers/downloads/


Posted by:

jamesinvictoria
14 Nov 2011

The Panda Anti-Virus for Mac is not cloud based. As far as I have been able to determine there is not a cloud based anti-virus for Mac. Rats.


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