NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2009
Free Panda Cloud Antivirus Released
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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In early May, 2009, I wrote about a novel idea from Panda Software, a Spanish cyber security company. At that time Panda had released an early beta (pre-release) version of its innovative antivirus program that was substantially different than the other competitive products available at that time. As a beta, it was not in a polished final form, and had some issues with some users, and some mixed reviews. In mid-November, Panda released its production version of Panda Cloud Antivirus, version 1.0, as a totally free (for personal use) antivirus program which runs smoothly on Windows XP, 2003, Vista (32 and 64), and Windows 7 (32 and 64).

What is unusual about Panda Cloud Antivirus (http://www.cloudantivirus.com) is that it uses a “cloud” or a series of high speed networked computers to carry out most scanning, rather than the client computer that it is running on. According to published tests, this results in a reduction of up to one-half of the processing time and load on the system, compared to the industry average of antivirus products. Since Panda Cloud does not use as much computing overhead as its competitors, many users have stated that they have experienced a significant increase in performance, as Panda Cloud does not have as much “drag” on the system, since it only consumed about 3% of the processing power of the computers on which it was tested. Another unusual feature is that there are no virus signatures to download, as the cloud of powerful networked computers that do the virus scanning are continuously updated, such that there is no periodic updating of the software on the computer. Panda calls its Cloud product, “the first antivirus without an update button”. This ensures that the Panda Cloud user will always be referencing the very latest in detection capability and digital malware signatures, a feature often lacking when users do not continuously update the conventional antivirus installed on their computers.

To download and install Panda Cloud Antivirus is a very simple process. The downloaded install file is about 22 megs in size, and downloads quickly on a broadband connection. Once downloaded the only decision that the user must make is to click on the “Accept and Install” button, and the software quickly installs. Since there are no large updated signature file to install, Panda Cloud is ready to function immediately without any further intervention of decisions to be made by the user. This has to be one of the simplest installation processes that I have ever tried. While I did not need any technical support, Panda Cloud offers free technical support via its online forums at http://www.cloudantivirus.com/forum/index.jspa.

Panda Cloud Antivirus requires an active internet connection as Panda calculates a digital signature for the files on the computer, and sends that signature to the cloud for instant analysis and feedback. Once a file has been determined as safe, a process that happens so fast as to be nearly undetectable, Panda knows not to resend that signature to the cloud, unless that file has been changed. My first full scan seemed a little slow taking longer than usual, as thousands of files were checked and determined to be safe, but subsequent scans were much faster because Panda Cloud did not have to recalculate and evaluate any unchanged files. According to Panda, its library of digital signature files is over a terabyte in size, a file size that would be prohibitive on a personal computer. As I type this, Panda’s “Collective Intelligence Monitor” is reporting that it has analyzed an aggregate of over 84 million distinct files, and identified which ones were malware, and which were safe. In the most recent two hour period, Panda Cloud has analyzed over 15,000 new files; the number for all of yesterday was over 166,000 new files. It should be noted that these are all unique files that had not been previously analyzed by the cloud. Panda claims that the cloud can instantly analyze over 99% of all new files it receives, but about one-half of one percent requires Panda’s staff to manually analyze the new files for threats. In the past week, Panda Cloud had detected and cleaned over 600,000 computers which were infested with just one or more of the top 10 malware threats, and does not include the computers infected with less common threats that were cleaned by Panda Cloud.

Even though Panda Cloud Antivirus 1.0 has only been available for a very short time, it has already won some accolades. PC Magazine tested Panda Cloud Antivirus 1.0 and awarded it its coveted “Editors’ Choice Award”, tying for the best detection rate during real-time scanning. Panda Cloud outscored the previous top-rated product in the detection of key loggers, the pesky malware that can steal usernames, passwords, account numbers, and enable identity theft. In its tests, Panda Cloud scored a perfect score in detecting rootkits, those often difficult to detect malware items that may hide in the registry and other hidden locations. Panda Cloud also tied for the top ranking in detecting “scumware” and “scareware”, those fraudulent pop-ups that tell the user that his computer is infected, and that for a steep fee, will clean his computer. While generally excellent in detecting malware, PC Magazine reported that Panda Cloud had some difficulties in actually removing some malware, including some rootkits. PC Magazine stated that Panda Cloud was among the best at keeping a clean system free of malware, but was less effective in cleaning an infected machine than some of the other products tested. Despite these shortcomings, Panda Cloud Antivirus 1.0 won the PC Magazine “Editors’ Choice Award”.

Another computer magazine, PC World, tested a late beta version of Panda Cloud shortly before the release of version 1.0. PC World stated, “Among all of the free antivirus software we tested for our latest roundup, Panda Cloud Antivirus was the best app at blocking known malware.” When writing about using the cloud as a detection tool rather than conventional signature files, PC World said, “The approach is intended to take advantage of the latest signatures without the need for signature-database updates–and if its excellent showing at detecting malware in AV-Test.org’s zoo of half a million samples is any indication, the approach works. Panda’s app produced an impressive 99.4 percent overall detection rate.”

If a user has an active internet connection, and needs a top-rated free antivirus product that is excellent at keeping clean systems clean, and has about the lowest drag on system performance, than Panda Cloud Antivirus 1.0 Free Edition would be a wise choice.

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