Cloud, mobile making for big changes in antivirus

Between free-is-better and cloud-is-broader, traditional vendors will struggle to keep up

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Trend Micro's complaint that Microsoft is cutting corners by delivering antivirus signatures and patches via Windows Update rather than an updater built into its antivirus product, as other vendors do, is just one indication that the whole antivirus market is about to go through an upheaval and probably consolidation as well.

Not only is Microsoft Security Essentials one of the best-reviewed products even among free and open-source options -- an accomplishment in itself -- its price of $0 has helped accelerate changes that would be caused by changes in technology anyway.

Sophos, for example, offers its antivirus free for Macintosh users. Most of the big AV vendors also offer free scans online -- though these are more of a come-on to buy the commercial version than a real service even for those that will clean all the viruses it finds, rather than offering possibly bogus warnings and a hard-sell for the premium edition.

Forty-four percent of consumers with smartphones or other intelligent mobile devices use them for work as well as personal tasks; of those, 81 percent do it without permission from IT, according to a study from Juniper Networks. That means a huge chunk of IT endpoints are vulnerable, a rush among antivirus vendors to cover them, and consolidation such as Intel's acquisition of McAfee driven by non-security companies who also see cleaning the endpoints as a requirement for any mobile product.

Companies such as AV-Comparatives, Portcullis Security and others build server-based appliances customers can plug into their networks to, among other things, let companies that can't afford their own security specialists to hire outside services to handle that for them.

Cloud-based startups, however -- some free, some paid, some still in beta and not yet free or paid -- could quickly change both the economics and practice of the whole market.

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