Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How a Cloud Antivirus Works


Products and Challenges

There seems to be a growing number of cloud antivirus products out there. The following are some you might want to check out:

  • Panda Cloud Antivirus - This is the software we looked at earlier. It has a Free Edition which may be sufficient for you. The Pro Edition, listed at $29,99, includes technical support services and USB device protection.
  • Immunet - This product, launched by a former Symantec executive, emphasizes strength in numbers. The Free edition is designed to gather information about malware threats from users and to share that data with the larger community. Immunet Plus, listed at $24.95, adds offline protection and advanced scanning and removal features.
  • HitMan Pro - This free product is designed to offer a second opinion scan to supplement your existing antivirus protection.
  • Webroot - Webroot and Prevx have partnered to create a cloud antivirus product that was in beta testing as of this writing. We found some hints at what it will look like here.

Cloud antivirus skeptics argue that this approach to malware protection lacks some essential components for security and performance. One concern is the potential invasion of privacy because of the collected data from your computer. Some products may be a bigger threat in this respect than others. Panda assures its users that their files never leave their computers, and that only certain executables are checked against the cloud data, which excludes files that could contain personal information. Before you decide on any cloud antivirus product, be sure to find out what data from your computer could become part of its collective database.

Performance arguments include some of the same concerns you might have about traditional antivirus software. For example, cloud antivirus software could increase the time required to start or shut down your computer or slow down the overall performance of other applications. CNET reviews of Panda Cloud Antivirus demonstrate some of the impact that product had on a system compared to having no other antivirus software and found that it had a "small but detectable impact on system performance" [source: Rosenblatt]. It's possible, though, that this might still beat the impact of some traditional antivirus programs. Determine whether a cloud antivirus product's performance is acceptable to you by trying out the software on your computer through your day-to-day activities. For most cloud antivirus products, giving it a try won't cost you anything!