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Free anti-virus scanner hits the cloud

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Avira has added cloud technology to the latest version of its popular freebie anti-virus scanner.

Version 10 of Avira AntiVir, released on Tuesday, adds cloud-based detection to a free-of-charge security scanner that competes with similar products offered by (Czech-firm ALWIL's) Avast and AVG.

All three firms aim to move consumers to fuller featured paid-for security suites as well as selling security software pitched at the SME end of the business market. Each of the three has had to step up its game following the release of Microsoft's Security Essentials freebie scanner last September.

The incorporation of cloud-based technologies is an industry trend across paid-for and now freebie scanners designed to respond to the growing volume of malware variants (50,000 a day, according to industry estimates) produced by the bad guys.

Traditional techniques, like pushing revised signature detection files from central servers, are struggling to cope, hence the need to switch architectures to add crowd-sourced malware detection to the mix.

Avira said cloud-based virus detection adds to existing heuristic, generic and pattern-based protection methods in Avira AntiVir Version 10, released on Tuesday. It also offers one-click malware removal for the first time as part of a revised interface. Generic repair of registry data and infected files also comes as standard.

Avira AntiVir Version 10 comes in three flavours: Avira AntiVir Personal, which comes free of charge to consumers; Avira AntiVir Premium, which costs €19.95 a year, features WebGuard browser security technology for defence against drive-by download attacks, and MailGuard to defend against email-bourne threats; and Avira Premium Security Suite which adds a personal firewall, parental controls, anti-spam and backup functions to the mix and costs €39.95 per year.

Revamped versions of the paid-for premium and professional editions of Version 10 of Avira AntiVir come with behaviour-based detection of malware absent in the freebie version of the scanner. The technology allows the blocking of programs acting suspiciously but not detected as malign by existing anti-virus signatures.

In recent independent tests by AV-Comparatives, a free version of Avast and a paid version of Avira received the top A+ ranking. The February 2010 tests, results of which came out last week, looked at factors including malware detection, scanning speed, and the number of false positives in rating a range of products. The paid-for version of AVG and Microsoft Security Essentials each rated a slightly lesser A rating in the exercise.

Avira and Avast both say their products are used by 100 million users worldwide. AVG says it has 110 million active users around the world. The overwhelming majority of these users of the free of charge scanners - despite the best efforts of all three vendors to hide the download locations of freebie scanners of their sites.

It's unclear how many surfers use Microsoft's Security Essentials, which offers Windows users basic protection.

What little evidence there is out there suggests that Microsoft Security Essentials has eaten into sales of paid-for security scanners from the likes of McAfee and Symantec without having much impact on the use of Avira, AVG and Avast. ®

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