Webroot antivirus ditches malware signatures for cloud scans

Scans in 2 minutes, installs in 6 seconds, company claims

Webroot has launched a brand new antivirus system called SecureAnywhere that almost completely ditches malware signatures in favour of scanning a PC's files against a cloud database.

SecureAnywhere represents a radical if unproven technological overhaul and has been on the cards since the company bought small UK security company Prevx a year ago, an acquisition that prompted it to totally abandon its established scanning and protection products.

As an alternative to conventional antivirus software, the product's design has a lot going for it, starting with the claim that it is 'lightweight'.

For years security companies have wrestled in vain to make antivirus protection lower its toll on a PC, especially when updating the signature database and carrying out on-demand scanning. Despite some success, there is no question that as signature scanning databases have expanded to fight the explosion in malware, the model has become extremely strained.

SecureAnywhere claims to install in a supernatural 6 seconds from a tiny 6MB executable, from which point it is able to perform a deep scan (it only performs 'deep' scans) in as little as two minutes, a fraction of traditional rivals.

It does this by comparing the files it finds on a system to an online cloud database of known program fingerprints culled from the total population of users. If one user encounters malware, or an unknown and suspicious file, every user benefits from this discovery, at least in principle. This also applies to files that try to execute on a PC - each is compared to known, detected file threats.

Apart from accessing signature files for a handful of very specific threats of the moment, it downloads no signatures.

The advantage of this model, and the reason it is already used to some extent in several antivirus products, is that is able to react to new threats very quickly. Often the time delay in getting new signatures is the killer for PC users.

Another interesting feature is that unlike established antivirus programs that might fight with one another, SecureAnywhere can be used while a conventional antivirus program is installed, making it a second line of defence that users have been crying out for in vain for years.

"For far too long, people have endured a miserable experience with their PC security," said Webroot's CEO, Dick Williams. "Security vendors, including Webroot, have expected customers to buy, install, and manage security products by themselves. This industry has been delivering products that are less and less effective against threats from zero-day exploits, social engineering, and other sophisticated techniques we see today."

The software works automatically out of the install wrapper with little intervention and configuration but, interestingly, more technical users are offered 124 settings to fiddle with if they wish.

One demanding threat the product will still have to wrestle with is rogue websites. Webroot said it had built in Web Threat Shield to filter links for malware and drive-by threats but these can be difficult to spot, even when harnessing the power of an entire community. The cloud is not a perfect answer yet.

SecureAnywhere is available in an Antivirus version for £29.95 ($39.95), which covers three PCs and can be managed through a web portal across the different systems. A more advanced version with Windows firewall management, identity protection for online banking, file backup and sync and 2GB of online storage costs £39.95 ($59.95) for three PCs.

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