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Anti-virus products are rubbish, says Imperva

‘Spend not proportional to effectiveness’

Security for virtualized datacentres

A study released in December by US security outfit Imperva has tipped a bucket on the multi-billion-dollar anti-virus industry, claiming that initial detection rates are as low as five percent, and concluding that enterprise and consumer anti-virus spend “is not proportional to its effectiveness”.

Working in conjunction with students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the company tested 82 malware samples against 40 anti-virus products including offerings from Microsoft, Symantec, McAfee and Kaspersky.

The test revealed that while catalogued viruses are well-detected, “less than 5% of anti-virus solutions in the study were able to initially detect previously non-cataloged viruses and that many solutions took up to a month or longer following the initial scan to update their signatures.”

Interestingly, the study revealed that virus writers improve their chance of evading detection by keeping a low profile. If an infection is spreading rapidly, it provides a large number of identical samples that feed into the anti-virus detection databases.

On the other hand, “variants that are of limited distribution (such as government sponsored attacks) usually leave a large window of opportunity”, the study states. That window of opportunity gives security teams a “blind spot”: if a zero-day virus gets past the first line of defense, security teams might not notice the infection until it’s become a crisis.

While stating that it does not advocate abandoning anti-virus products, Imperva suggests enterprise security should devote more attention to detecting aberrant behavior in systems and servers. Which, unsurprisingly, happens to be the company’s own specialty.

The full study is here. ®

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