Panda Security has bolstered the features available in its free antivirus product, Cloud Antivirus, adding a new behavioural engine and Windows autorun control.
The company seems content to give away features the majority of rivals still charge for, starting with a behavioural engine capable of blocking common exploits based on malformed files such as PDFs, Excel files and, of course, malevolent executables.
As with the previous version, it manages what to block using its connection to the company's Collective Intelligence system, a cloud-based database of what is affecting the Panda community as a whole.
The new Cloud AV can also be set to disable the Windows autorun feature, a common malware exploit, and comes wrapped in a disarmingly simple interface that runs happily in silent mode without the user being aware of it bar the need to update. The software can be set to block files from running until they have been checked against the cloud database.
Panda does offer a paid 'upsell' version, Cloud Antivirus Pro Edition, which has also been overhauled slightly to include automatic vaccination of USB drives and a second behavioural engine that analyses running processes. This costs $29.95 per annum and includes automatic upgrades to future versions (these are manual on the free version).
"Since the debut of Panda Cloud Antivirus last year, nearly 10 million home users have selected the free service as their antivirus of choice," said Panda security senior researcher, Pedro Bustamante.
Panda also sees the migration from most users paying for AV to one where only a minority does as an opportunity, as well it might. The big three of McAfee, Symantec and Trend have the most to lose in this change.
"We want to make sure that Panda is taking the market share from that migration," said Panda Security CEO, Juan Santana.
Panda security's innovation here is probably not that the software is free - others including Microsoft offer basic free AV software - but to have done it without chopping out the useful bits. Antivirus suites are becoming more complex as vendors compete with one another to add features such as backup, encryption and virtual keyboards for text entry. All of this increases complexity, downs performance, and generally ups cost.
Panda is also a pioneer of the cloud approach, which is likely to gain traction in the security space. That PCs can secure themselves by downloading large signature files is accepted by everyone in the software industry as having no future and the cloud appears to offer a new model based on rapid and collective malware analysis.
Further out, an application whitelisting model beckons though it's hard to see how that can be offered without some form of charge. The global data centres needed cost money.