Hugh Pickens writes "Nicole Perlroth reports in the NY Times that the antivirus industry has a dirty little secret: antivirus products are not very good at stopping new viruses. Researchers collected and analyzed 82 new computer viruses and put them up against more than 40 antivirus products, made by top companies like Microsoft, Symantec, McAfee and Kaspersky Lab and found that the initial detection rate was less than 5 percent (PDF). 'The bad guys are always trying to be a step ahead,' says Matthew D. Howard, who previously set up the security strategy at Cisco Systems. 'And it doesn't take a lot to be a step ahead.' Part of the problem is that antivirus products are inherently reactive. Just as medical researchers have to study a virus before they can create a vaccine, antivirus makers must capture a computer virus, take it apart and identify its 'signature' — unique signs in its code — before they can write a program that removes it. That process can take as little as a few hours or as long as several years. In May, researchers at Kaspersky Lab discovered Flame, a complex piece of malware that had been stealing data from computers for an estimated five years. 'The traditional signature-based method of detecting malware is not keeping up,' says Phil Hochmuth. Now the thinking goes that if it is no longer possible to block everything that is bad, then the security companies of the future will be the ones whose software can spot unusual behavior and clean up systems once they have been breached. 'The bad guys are getting worse,' says Howard. 'Antivirus helps filter down the problem, but the next big security company will be the one that offers a comprehensive solution.'"
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