Cloud security upstart Immunet aims for antiviruses

Common security wisdom says it's a bad idea to run multiple antivirus apps simultaneously. That's not always the case, and Immunet 2.0 intends to bolster your existing protection with help from the cloud and the crowd.

Common Windows security wisdom says it's a bad idea to run multiple antivirus apps simultaneously. However, that's not always the case, and Immunet's latest update intends to bolster your existing protection with help from the cloud and the crowd. Available exclusively Thursday on CNET Download.com, Immunet 2.0 introduces new scanning tools, detection engines, and support in a bid to convince users that the program is the spackle they need to plug the holes in their security wall.

Immunet 2 in pictures

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Similar to PC Tools' ThreatFire, which didn't originally address virus-related threats but does now, Immunet seeks to present a lightweight method to enhance already-installed protection. Immunet CEO Oliver Friedrichs and the company's vice president of engineering, Alfred Huger, pointed to the effectiveness of properly leveraged, community-based protection while at a cafe outside this year's RSA Conference in March. "There's a tremendous amount of energy spent on protecting users from threats they'll never encounter," Huger said.

On features alone, there's no doubt that Immunet 2.0 is a better product than its predecessor. The free version offers a new cloud-based detection engine called ETHOS, on-demand scanning, in-product updates, a visual representation of the Immunet communty, a silent gaming mode, and a stream from the Immunet security blog. Huger explained ETHOS as, "a broadbased cache engine, basically a heuristics engine."

The new Immunet interface puts a lot of information at hand, but navigating within it could be smoother. (Note that the screenshot is from an release candidate and the yellow 'RC2' won't appear on the version you can download.)

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Generally, these features all worked fairly well. The community features let you invite friends to use Immunet, which serves Immunet's purposes by getting more users, and serve the network's purposes since threat detections are immediately passed up into the cloud and distributed. In theory, this would prevent errors of the kind that McAfee suffered in April, since a false positive on one computer would conflict with the community's otherwise safe rating. The community feature also displays in a somewhat-interactive graphic how your personal community contributes to the larger Immunet collective.

Friedrichs stressed that Immunet's community-based cloud detection system, Collective Immunity, is different from several of its competitor's systems. "It's not defaulting out to DNS like Artemis," he said, referring to McAfee's network.

There's also an unusual amount of attention paid to user-support issues for a free program, with free 24/7 telephone support. The service includes installation problems, assistance with potential virus issues, and sluggish computer performance that may not be virus-related. E-mail support has been dropped from this version in favor of online forums.

The installation of Immunet 2.0 asks for registration, which you can skip to avoid sending your data up to the cloud. It does opt you in to the Ask toolbar and defaut search engine switch, so users who don't want them should go through the install process carefully.

Immunet also offers a bit of exploration of the program's community network, with an interactive visual representation of the friends that you're connected to. (Note that the screenshot is from an release candidate and the yellow 'RC2' won't appear on the version you can download.)

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The interface is a blue wall behind three columns that provide access to Community, Computer, and Product settings. On the far left side of the interface, Immunet quietly informs you of your other installed antivirus program, while on the far right there are two bars keeping track of CPU and memory usage. Annoyingly, much of the interface uses text that comes in varying shades of blue, which can make it harder to read than it should be. I also found that switching screens within Immunet and tooltips were slow to respond to clicks and mouse-overs.

The History window, under the Computer column, provides a reasonably in-depth accounting of what Immunet's been up to. This includes an option to view by all file events, which essentially acts as an Internet traffic log. I'm a fan of exposing as much data as possible about security behavior to users, but this could be improved by allowed users to access the folder location where the activity took place.

The new scanning tools come in the three standard flavors: the quick Flash scan, Full, and Custom. The Flash scan, which checks out only processes and the Registry, took just over one minute to finish, while the full takes much longer because it checks your entire computer. Immunet doesn't lock you into a running scan, so you can hide it and use other parts of the program. However, Immunet restricts rootkit scans to its paid upgrade, sacrificing some of your security.

Immunet's new scans give the program much more appeal than before, but they do limit rootkit scans to the paid version. (Note that the screenshot is from an release candidate and the yellow 'RC2' won't appear on the version you can download.)

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

During a day of anecdotal testing, I noticed no unusual system slow-downs while running Immunet concurrently with Avast. Third-party security performance benchmarks are not yet available.

At this point, there's no one feature in Immunet that's impressive enough to make it stand out against the competitive security field. What it does offer though is an extra dose of peace of mind for those users who feel, for whatever reason, that their current security just isn't enough.

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