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Security in the Cloud
Five or six years ago, a security package could get away with relying solely on virus-definition files (also known as signatures). Virus definitions, which security companies periodically send out to their software via online updates, tell the malware detection engine what to look for. And for a while, this system worked.
But in recent years, as cybercrime became more sophisticated and the amount of malware grew, this strategy no longer sufficed. Along the way, antivirus companies developed new technologies, such as heuristic analysis (in which antivirus software learns what’s good and what’s bad over time) and behavioral analysis (in which the software identifies malware based on how the intruder acts on your PC).
The latest trend in fighting malware is to use cloud computing: The security suite on your PC enlists the power of the software maker’s massive online systems to help detect threats.
This method has two advantages. First, it allows security companies to respond to new malware more quickly by effectively updating everyone at once. Second, when done well, offloading the heavy lifting of malware detection to an online system can reduce the impact that a suite has on your PC’s performance.
Some antimalware packages use cloud computing to supplement other detection technology. But newer antivirus utilities, including Webroot’s SecureAnywhere and Trend Micro’s Titanium line, rely almost exclusively on it.
Although we don’t have a specific test for cloud-based protection, our real-world malware test gives us a good idea as to whether these newer antivirus tools can keep you safer. This test pits security suites against malicious websites to learn how well the software can stop never-before-seen malware variants. On average, 2012’s suites fully blocked 95 percent of these attacks, a notable improvement over the 85 percent rate we saw last year.
|Real-world testing: fully blocked malware attacks||85.2%||95.0%|
|Signature-based malware detection||96.7%||99.4%|
|Disinfection of active malware components||74.6%||91.4%|
CHART NOTE: Percentages shown are averages across the suites we tested. Higher is better.
Every malware detection technology has its pros and cons, and we’re still in the early days of cloud-based protection, but if the strength of this year’s class of suites is any indication, these new, advanced technologies are doing their part to keep your system even more secure.