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April 20, 2009

AVG launches free web threat product

Sits alongside all popular Windows security engines

By CBR Staff Writer

AVG, the security software house best known for its free anti-virus product that is said to be installed on 85 million PCs, is to offer free web scanning software that blocks dangerous websites and checks for threats in links served by search engines such Google, Yahoo and MSN Live.

Unlike other comparable products AVG Linkscanner will sit alongside any Windows anti-virus engine and works with XP or Vista and Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers, the company said. It has been deployed for some time, but only to users of AVG’s own anti-virus software.

“The software sits in the background and checks every web site page in real-time. Every time a user clicks, we check. It is completely unobtrusive,” AVG’s CEO JR Smith told us. If a user clicks onto a page with a perceived threat, Linkscanner will stop the browser downloading that page.

Linkscanner will also scan bookmarks and links in emails and instant messages before they are opened to ensure they are safe. It rates every page for threats. The company released an English language version today and has promised international editions by the end of May.

The company is able to mine the threat landscape by pulling data from around half of the AVG user base who have opted to share information on their browsing experiences: something the company refers to as feeding its neighbourhood watch security processes. 

Linkscanner aggregates threat intelligence from these and other sources, correlates it in real time and integrates it back into the threat analysis process to ensure protection is as up to date as possible.

“As many as two million sites are infected every single day and we have estimated that roughly one in eight users are impacted in some way by a bad web site page,” said Smith. He claimed that as a result of it being constantly primed with the very latest web threats, its new software produces almost zero false positives.

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The CEO told us his company does not release figures but was able to confirm the business produces 30% net margins on sales that in 2007 were recorded as being $80 million. 

“We have grown by an average of 75% over the past three years,” Smith said, saying that seeding the market with free product has helped build brand awareness and produced up-sell opportunities. “We believe we are number three in the market in terms of brand recognition. Around 60% of our business is with consumers and most of the paid user base started out using our free software.”

Smith explained that although the company does not play anywhere in the enterprise space, the very small business market was a segment that suits its business model better than it did competitors. Kaspersky Labs and Panda Software are probably its nearest rivals.

“Typically we sell fewer than 15 seats to very small businesses that know our software and might want the added security of a firewall, anti-spam technology and some custom support.” The vendor has a large reseller chain of over 6,000, which in the UK includes the likes of Ingram Micro.

In March the company announced it would wrap into its Internet Security suite, a new AVG Identity Protection or IDP system effectively detects malware and system vulnerabilities by checking over applications that follow unexpected paths. It was the takeover in January of Sana Security that provided AVG with the software algorithms needed to do it.

Sana developed programmes that can distinguish normal application behaviour from unusual malware-prompted behaviour, by tracking the code paths that develop as desktop and web applications interact with each other.

AVG said that this product prevents PC key-logger malware from siphoning off passwords, bank account details, credit card numbers and the like by picking up unexplained changes in a PC’s behaviour. It prevents loss by triggering an alert or isolating the activity, along with any associated files and configuration changes, into a quarantine area. AVG IDP runs alongside existing its anti-virus software.

Smith noted that the Linkscanner product would evolve to offer botnet protection some time in the near future. He also suggested the company may develop security protection for smartphones, although he sees it as a product development opportunity that is still 12 to 18 months off. “We are working closely with Apple,” he said.


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