Cloud computing technology is one of the most disruptive technologies in recent history. Xath Cruz at CloudTimes argues in a recent article that cloud computing is also disrupting security software such as anti-virus and he asks how effective are cloud-based anti-viruses?
The article, How Effective are Cloud-Based Anti-Viruses? claims the demand for cloud-based anti-virus software has gone up steadily as more cloud dependent computing devices have invaded the market. Cloud dependent computing devices like iPads, Nooks, iPhones and Galaxy’s are as susceptible to malware as their big desktop brethren.
In order to fight the malware threats to cloud dependent computing devices, cloud based anti-virus has evolved. Cloud based anti-virus works differently than popular cloud-based document editors like Google Docs, where you only need a web browser and internet access. The blog post explains that cloud based anti-virus software can’t function if it’s only in the cloud, since your PC won’t easily give the right kind of administrative access needed by antivirus software to programs hosted remotely, as that would leave your PC at risk of being intruded upon by other programs.
In order to protect a PC, tablet or smartphone, a cloud-based anti-virus software requires a small native app to run on the device. When downloaded, the app acts as the anti-virus, with its database and heuristics data being hosted on the cloud. There are also cloud based anti-virus software that use web browser extensions or Active X and Java to gain proper access to your PC.
Like any technology, cloud-based antivirus software has specific pros and cons when compared to native anti-virus suites, Mr. Cruz lays out some of the pro and cans of cloud based anti-virus:
1. No Installation Required – The first advantage of cloud based anti-virus is that there’s no need to install them on your PC. Cloud based anti-virus does not eat up hard disk space, with its storage and memory footprint being a fraction of what local anti-virus need. Additionally, you can get them up and running immediately, and there’s no likelihood of messing up the installation (which usually results in a non-working antivirus or corrupted file volume).
2. No Updating Necessary – With cloud based anti-virus, there is no need to update data files, since it’s hosted on the cloud, and will automatically be patched or updated by the provider. This will offer the latest in protection when it becomes available.
3. Double Security Layer – With a cloud based anti-virus software, it is possible to run a locally installed anti-malware app and run another different cloud based antivirus without worrying about conflicts or PC slowdown. Different anti-virus software are better able to catch or inoculate different viruses.
4. An advantage of cloud based anti-virus software the author missed is collective or community intelligence. SearchSecurity reports that when a systems identifies malware, it’s able to give feedback to the cloud anti-malware provider, thus providing a wider surface area for rapidly detecting 0-day attacks.
1. Won’t Run in the Background – Cloud based anti-viruses are not effective against viruses that run on startup. Cloud based anti-viruses are not TSR (terminate and stay resident) programs and only run on an as needed basis.
2. Limited Scan – Cloud based anti-viruses risk missing dormant viruses in unopened or archived files. Windows’ security protocols will prevent some cloud anti viruses from scanning the whole computer. They will only be able scan core windows files and what’s currently loaded in the memory.
3. It Requires an Internet Connection – Cloud based anti-virus is useless without access to the Internet. This is a problem for portable device users who can’t be connected 24×7. Without an Internet connection viruses will be free to do whatever they want.
The author concludes for the best protection your PC can get, you need to use the services of both a locally installed anti-virus software and a cloud based one.
The main concern I have about cloud based anti-virus apps is downtime. Cloud providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Amazon have had issues lately providing their services. Downtime at the upstream ISP on the LAN can also play havoc with cloud based anti-malware apps.