With threats like Conficker fresh in the public's mind, security remains a top concern for Windows users. Panda Security, publishers of Panda Internet Security and Panda Antivirus, is set to take antivirus where it hasn't been yet: into the clouds. Panda Cloud Antivirus beta bets that nearly three years of development can pay off into a better protection system for users. To that end, Panda's willing to make the client free for personal use--even after it leaves beta testing.

Panda Cloud Antivirus offers on-demand scanning. (Credit: Panda Security)

You can also download the program from CNET Download.com.

The program uses Panda's proprietary cloud computing technology, which they call Collective Intelligence, to detect viruses, malware, rootkits, and heuristics. It takes advantage of "millions of users," according to Panda, to identify new malware almost in real time. Panda says that Collective Intelligence can classify new malware in under six minutes, and that it handles more than 50,000 new samples per day. The Cloud Antivirus works by classifying threats into executables that must be scanned immediately, and non-executables that are checked at a lower priority--usually when the computer is idle.

In exchange for using consumer data to build the Collective Intelligence database, Panda decided to offer the Panda Cloud Antivirus for free, said Pedro Bustamante, senior research adviser at Panda Security.

Panda Cloud Antivirus appears to be able to handle a wide range of threats. (Credit: Panda Security)

The new program reportedly takes up around 50 MB on the hard drive and eats around 17 MB of RAM when in use. That compares well against the industry average that Panda provided of 60 MB, and Bustamante said that they're aiming for 12 MB of RAM when in use.

Cloud computing may make sense from a system resources point of view, but what happens to system security when the computer isn't connected to the Internet? "The model we've implemented is to break down the traditional antivirus to client and server, so when the user is not connected they keep a local cache copy of Collective Intelligence, including detections for what Collective Intelligence sees is spreading through the community," he said.

Panda Cloud Antivirus is for Windows XP and Windows Vista, with planned support for Windows 7 when it's released. Bustamante added that it will stay in beta as it's being accepted by users, although they hope it will leave beta by the end of this summer.