Archive

Posts Tagged ‘offline’

Arguments against cloud-based antivirus

December 1st, 2009 5 comments

With any advance in science and technology there will always be critics and people oppossed to change. This has happened over and over again in the course of history. Antivirus is no different. We saw resistance when we released behavioral analysis in 2004 (which is mainstream technology nowadays) and we have seen it recently with the release of Panda Cloud Antivirus.

In this post I have compiled a list of all arguments against cloud-based antivirus that I was able to find. Let us review these arguments against cloud-based antivirus and see why they are based on either misconceptions or simple lack of understanding and knowledge of how this technology works.

A malware could cripple the Internet connection and render the cloud antivirus useless
Exactly the same thing could happen to the traditional signature based antivirus. If a malware gets through the traditional signature defenses and manages to disable your Internet connection, you will not be able to get signature updates from your AV vendor and therefore will not be protected against the new malware variants, rendering your traditional AV just as useless.

A cloud-based antivirus needs to check everything against the cloud. Takes more time
Actually not everything is checked against the cloud. At least with Panda’s implementation of cloud-scanning there are locally installed technologies (heuristics, cache of cloud-detection, goodware cache, etc.) that are able to detect a good deal of malware threats and known good files. All these files are not checked against the cloud. Think about it, once you install the cloud-based antivirus, how many new programs do you install on your computer every day? Not that many, right? Once installed, only new programs copied or trying to run on your computer are checked against the cloud (if they are not detected first by the local technologies). From our beta testing phase we have seen that on average Panda Cloud Antivirus only consumes a few KB of bandwidth per day, less than the typical traditional signature updates.

It is an invasion of privacy. I do not want my files & documents to leave my computer
This is one of the most common misconceptions, maybe due to some weak implementations of cloud-scanning by some vendors. At least in Panda’s implementation of cloud-scanning when a file is “scanned by the cloud” it doesn’t actually leave your computer, it is not uploaded to our Collective Intelligence servers. What really happens is that Panda Cloud Antivirus creates a really small reverse signature of the file and the signature is what gets checked against the cloud. Also cloud-scanning is only implemented to Portable Executable (PE) files, so your Word/Excel documents, etc. are not checked against the cloud. There is one scenario with PE files where, if it is flagged as suspicious and Collective Intelligence doesn’t already have a copy of the file, then the file is uploaded for further analysis. But even then people can opt-out of participating in the community by simply un-checking this option in the product.

Cloud-based antivirus do not protect while offline
While this might be true of some cloud-based antivirus implementations, in the case of Panda Cloud Antivirus it is not true. Panda Cloud Antivirus has a local cached copy of the Collective Intelligence cloud servers. This local cache is tasked with detecting (even while not connected to the Internet) malware that is in the wild, non-PE malware and other threats. Unlike traditional signature updates, this local cache update is a “moving target” of what the community sees as circulating out there in the wild. Therefore it is able to efficiently protect against the important threats. This local cache does not protect against Win98 or DOS viruses or even malware that is dead or not circulating anymore. That is why the community aspect of Panda Cloud Antivirus is so important as, the more people use it, the better protection it offers.
UPDATE: Panda Cloud Antivirus 1.1 includes 4 additional new layers of offline protection: 2 behavioural engines (blocking & runtime analysis), autorun disabling and USB vaccination.

So that means that it provides lower protection while offline
First let’s take a look at the practical aspect: after running the beta and release of Panda Cloud Antivirus for over 7 months with millions of users, we have not had a single recorded incident of an infected user while not connected to the Internet. There’s a common misconception that protection = detection rates of millions of samples as tested by magazines. This is not really true as those tests include malware that is dead, not circulating anymore or even does not work on your operating system (like old DOS/Win98 viruses). If we define protection as stopping real-life malware that is circulating then the offline protection that is offered by Panda Cloud Antivirus is more than enough.

So if I have some old malware and disconnect from the Internet, can I infect myself?
Yes of course. You can also take a stroll down the worse neighborhood of your city sprouting a gold watch and necklaces and there’s a pretty good chance you will be (at least) mugged. Or you can just drive off a 200 meter cliff hoping your seatbelt and airbag will be enough to save your life. Panda Cloud Antivirus was designed for real people and real-life use. With that in mind you won’t have to worry about these highly unlikely scenarios during your normal computing experience.

I’m worried about latency and response time
This a very valid worry with regards to an AV whose real-time monitor (on-access scanner) works in a synchronous mode against the cloud. Currently we have two “timeouts” in the product, a first one to notify the user of problems with latency and a second one for blocking the execution altogether if no answer is received. However from our measurements these last months in over 98% of the cases the response time of the on-access scanner is below a second. Keep in mind that only a few bytes are sent back and forth when a file is queried, so the real impact is really low.

Cloud-scanning is just the latest marketing buzzword
It seems it is becoming much more a buzzword. But it doesn’t mean there is not benefit behind it. Many different products (not only security-related) are migrating their “intelligence” to the cloud and leaving behind those old, overloaded, slow applications in exchange of faster, always up-to-date clients. There is a clear benefit not only from the perspective of developers who are much less constrained by the limitations of a single PC, but also from the point of view of the user who gets an improved computing experience without all the negative aspects of resource consumption of his/her PC.

Cloud-scanning is just a way for AV vendors to lower their cost of downloading signatures
Yeah right, you should talk to our CFO about this (he stands out as the only one with grey hairs because of how expensive this whole thing has been :) ). Seriously, it would have been waaaaay cheaper to stick to the existing traditional signature download infrastructure approach than to set-up an additional multi-million infrastructure just for cloud-scanning. Not only is there the initial investment but also the continuous maintenance. And of course this does not take into consideration the additional investment in development and QA that’s also needed to develop and maintain this technology in the products.

Cloud-scanning is only good as a second opinion
This might have been true of the first cloud implementations a couple of years ago (online scanner, the first cloud-only products, etc.) but it is not true anymore. At least with Panda’s implementation, Panda Cloud Antivirus is a full replacement of a traditional AV. Panda Cloud Antivirus has the best of both worlds; it includes local protection for offline and the most effective protection while online. While some vendors are adding some cloud-scanning abilities to their existing products’ (as an additional technology in the mix of different technologies), Panda Cloud Antivirus has been developed from scratch to work in real-time in synchronous mode against the cloud. It has been proven as an effective replacement of traditional signature approach.

If you can think of any other argument against this type of technology feel free to let us know! :)