Avast Antivirus 6.0 combats Trojans with virtualisation

Takes new direction with 'SafeZone'

Czech security company Avast Software is adding virtualised security to the forthcoming version of its paid antivirus software in an attempt to woo consumers worried about attacks on online banking by Trojans such as Zeus/SpyEye.

Called 'SafeZone', the new feature in version 6.0 claims it can combat keyloggers and spyware by running a Chromium-based browser from inside a virtualised session. The effect is to stop outside applications - including malware - from accessing any of the data from within the session thereby protecting password and username entry on websites.

The feature is really designed for specific uses such as banking and would not be convenient for general-purpose web browsing. Technologies such as flash do appear to be supported but plugins used in a non-virtualised browser are not present.

The company is confident the feature will work even if the machine has been infected prior to installation.

"SafeZone is about creating a new secure, private space - without users having to worry about the technical specifics, and one that is not dependent on an already clean machine," said Avast's CTO, Ondrej Vlcek.

"This is really a 180 degree change in philosophy as we've long focused on keeping malware from getting in. Now we can also keep malware from taking any information out," he said.

The new virtualised security should not be confused with the 'autosandbox' feature that also makes its first appearance in Avast 6.0. This is an isolated space in which suspicious or new executables are run automatically and securely to stop them accessing deeper areas of the PC. Unlike SafeZone, the autosandbox will also be part of the free version of the app.

Features such as virtualised security are becoming important for 'freemium' antivirus companies that depend on converting users of free software into paid, annual subscribers. Making sure enough users sign up depends on features over and above signature scanning and basic heuristics which have proved less and less effective against state-of-the-art malware such as the Zeus banking Trojan.

Alternatives to what Avast is offering include IronKey's USB stick virtualisation and Trusteer's Rapport, which is a dedicated add-on that creates a sort of private session within a conventional browser.

Full availability has not been announced for the software but Avast Antivirus Pro 6.0 will cost £29.95 (approx $40) per annum, or £40 for three PCs per annum.

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