NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2010
Immunet – Free AntiVirus Software Using New Technology
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)


Many users are blissfully unaware of the degree that virus and malware threaten our computing safety and security. According to published security reports, there are now over 12 million viruses, Trojans, worms, and other forms of malware threatening us, with an average of 5400 new threats and variants showing up every day. In 2009 alone, over two million new threats were created, released, and detected. Hardly a day goes by that I do not receive an email or a call asking for help in cleaning an infected computer. The current crop of the most common malware can steal your identity by capturing your user names, account numbers and passwords, sending that information to deviants who make fortunes selling your purloined information to crooks that will drain your bank accounts and charge your credit cards to their limits. Other common malware will hijack your computer and add it to a “bot” of thousands of other hijacked computers which can then be rented to crooks to send out spam emails from your computer, or used by terrorists to cyber attack other computers. These occurrences are not some abstract work of science fiction, but very real threats that victimize millions of computer users every day.

Over the years I have heard countless lame excuses why computer users do not use antivirus software. Some claim that the virus threats are simply created by the software companies to sell their product; others claim that the software is too expensive, and slows their computers to a crawl. Still others proudly claim that they do not use protective software because they “practice safe HEX” and never visit illicit websites or open email attachments. A few argue that it is just too inconvenient to have a program that needs frequent updates. I have another term for these misguided individuals; I call them victims, either now or a victim waiting to happen.

There are many antivirus products available in the marketplace, ranging from some excellent freeware titles (there goes the “too expensive” argument), to pricey commercial products. Except for the scumware and scareware fraudulent antivirus software that is hawked using phony popups that tell you that your computer is infected, all of the legitimate antivirus software will provide the user with some reasonable degree of protection if updated frequently.

There is a new entry in the crowded antivirus field that is offering an unusual method of providing comprehensive antivirus protection without the need for downloading frequent updates, and without any noticeable degradation in computer performance.

Another most unusual feature of this new product is that it can explicitly be run in addition to another antivirus program, providing an extra layer of malware protection, without interfering or conflicting with the other antivirus program. This new product renders obsolete the old maxim that the user should never run two antivirus programs at the same time. This most interesting new product is called Immunet Protect, and can be downloaded (free) from http://www.immunet.com/user/new.

Unlike most other antivirus products, Immunet Protect only installs a small program on your computer, but does not install a huge library of digital signatures that other programs use, and Immunet Protect does not require any updating of virus signatures. Immunet Protect uses a fairly new concept called “cloud computing” where small digital signatures created from the files on your computer are scanned by a host of other powerful computers, rather than by your own computer. This obviously requires an active internet connection, but frees up your PC’s processor for other tasks, rather than continuously scanning files against a massive downloaded set of digital signatures that may not be totally up to date. Immunet Protect sends very small digital signatures that uniquely represent the files on your computer to the cloud which is constantly updated, and it is the cloud, not your computer, that does the scanning. The digital signatures that are sent to the cloud are so small that they do not put a significant drag on the speed and throughput of the internet connection. If the digital signature is identified as representing a file that is known as safe, then Immune Protect will allow it to load and execute. If the digital signature is identified as one of the 12 million known threats, then it is blocked. If the digital signature is unknown, the cloud analyzes it and quickly determines if it is a threat or not; if it is a threat, the digital signature is added to the cloud’s threat database, and all Immunet Protect users are now instantly protected from that threat, without the need to download any new malware signature files. Another benefit is that since Immunet Protect does not consume large amounts of system resources, it frees up memory and processor time for other tasks.

Immunet Protect is available in both 32 and 64 bit versions which will run on all recent Windows versions. On this computer which is running XP, I downloaded and installed the 32 bit version. The download was very fast, as it was only 3.5mb in size (version 1.0.26). It installed surprisingly fast, and connected to the internet, showing that I was one of over 80,000 users currently online and contributing “intelligence” to the cloud. While it was not mandatory, I selected to register, which only required a name and email address. I selected to perform a scan, which I did. In just a few minutes the scan was completed, and no threats were found.

By default (which can be changed by the user with a single mouse click), Immunet Protect monitors almost all software activities on the computer. The “Monitor Application Install” feature monitors all new software installed on the computer either intentionally, or installed by other applications, including updates. If found to be safe, the install process continues unabated; if a threat is found, the installation is stopped, and the user notified of his options. As an experiment I downloaded and installed a new printer driver, and even though the Immune Protect log shows that every driver file was inspected and found to be safe, I did not notice any decreased performance or slowed installation while the scanning was performed in real time. The “Monitor Application Start” function examines all application when they are loaded and run by sending the digital signatures to the cloud. Again, there was no noticeable decline in performance. “Active Protection Mode” prevents applications from being installed unless that are proven safe, a process that is typically completed in a fraction of a second. “ETHOS Protection” uses heuristics to quickly inspect every file downloaded or executed for unknown threats, and sends the information to the cloud for further instant analysis; if a threat is found, then all Immunet Protect users have instant protection from the new threat without the need of downloading signature updates.

Immune Protect can be used as a free standing antivirus and anti-malware product, or run in addition to other antivirus and security software. On this computer, I installed it even though I have another major name brand antivirus product already installed and running. On this computer, there have been no conflicts between Immune Protect and my other antivirus and security software, and I have not noticed any slowed or otherwise degraded performance having multiple products installed and running.

For those who would like enhanced protection at no cost, Immune Protect recently created a strategic partnership with the very popular and effective open source (free) ClamAV antivirus. Available in 32 and 64 bit Windows versions (runs on XP, Vista, and Windows 7) from http://www.clamav.net/about/win32, this new version of ClamAV integrates the best of the proven ClamAV technology, with the new technologies of Immunet’s cloud based system. According to the ClamAV website, “Immunet placed ClamAV into their Cloud infrastructure alongside their Ethos detection engine, and several other detection technologies. By combining all these technologies, and utilizing the power of community-based detection, we feel we have the most effective Anti-Virus technology on the market. And it only gets better with every user that installs and utilizes our technology.”

Since both Immunet Protect and ClamAV are free, do not significantly degrade performance, and do not require frequent updating, the arcane arguments against having effective antivirus software installed are out the “Window”. There is now absolutely no excuse not to have a quality antivirus product installed and protecting your system. Whether you already have an antivirus product installed, need to replace an existing product, or do not have an antivirus product installed, either Immunet Protect by itself, or integrated with ClamAV would be a good choice and worthy of your consideration.

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