Bitdefender recently released a much-awaited free product that integrates all their award-winning technologies. Called Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, it is available only in Romania for now, but it promises to offer users one of the best free products on the market.
Alex Balan, Senior Product Manager at Bitdefender and one of the most involved people in the development of this product, was kind enough to offer us an interview and share his insight on some interesting topics.Softpedia:
A free product from Bitdefender has long been expected by the security solutions market. What made you launch Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition now and why did it take 10 years?
We already launched a free edition back in 2008-2009, but it turned out it might not have been exactly what people wanted, while now, with the Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, we managed to create something much better. The project didn't come as a spin-off on our current products, instead it was intended as a completely stand-alone solution.
About a year ago, our CTO, Bogdan Dumitru, asked me and the head of the new product development team to create the fastest product in the world, and that was it.
We started by fine-tuning and tweaking what we already had. We began with the caching systems, the parsing systems to make sure all of them are used at maximum efficiency.
The smart scans and the caching systems were the places where we made the first improvements, and then we tried to figure out new ways in which we could optimize the resource consumption.
That's how the Gonzales project took off. We passed through three-four different interface iterations and besides the fastest product we also set our minds to make something totally different. Something that has no settings, no options and something that tries to change the perceptions on what is expected from an antivirus solution.
A somewhat ambitions project in which we wanted to point out the fact that we are the security specialists and not the users, at the same time promising real security and zero impact on system resources as long as we're trusted.
Practically, we wanted to make something that people can look upon 6 months from now and say "that's how an AV solution should be made," by going after the source of the problem and not by applying hacks.
For instance, our Active Virus Control (AVC) is a system that monitors processes and when it detects that something is amiss with a certain process, it generates some internal alerts. If an alert threshold is reached, the process is considered to be malware. This not only brings up a very small number of false positives, but it also brings a lot of benefits from the point of view of heuristics and proactive detections.
In order to do this, AVC hooks itself in all the processes that run.
Let's take for example the online gaming anti-cheating system Punkbuster
. Say we're playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare or Counter-Strike. In order to play, we have to connect to a server, but if the server has Punkbuster
installed, it verifies through the Punkbuster client if the executed file is clean and hasn't been tampered with.
As it turns out, Punkbuster
had a problem with AVC since it didn't know how to handle it, and one of the options would have been to give users the chance to add exceptions for online games.
This would have been the easiest solution, but since we wanted a different approach and go by the Gonzales philosophy, we attacked the problem at its core and we contacted Punkbuster
to make sure they wouldn't consider us a threat anymore.
I don't know if this is thinking outside the box, but from our point of view, this is the normal way to handle things, to go after an issue at its core instead of developing hacks that would eventually fix it.
Why after 10 years? Well, when the product reached its final stages, we had to decide what we wanted to do with it, and there were many options, some of them still plausible.
One option was to release it for free on other markets, but in the end we decided to launch it as a free product in Romania.
It was more about launching a free product on the Romanian market than it was about offering a free product.Softpedia:
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is available only for users from Romania. Will this change? Is there a plan to make it available in other countries as well?Alex Balan:
At the moment we're still discussing the matter. I can't say things are heading one way or another, but anything is possible.Softpedia:
Bitdefender possesses a lot of security technologies. Which of them can be found in Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition?Alex Balan:
The product itself was developed with two main purposes in mind. We wanted to create something that would have a small impact on performance, that would make no compromises when it comes to security and something that's 'silent'.
We looked for silent security, we wanted it to be intelligent and intuitive so it would know what has to be done when faced with certain situations.
In order to achieve this we had to come up with a lot of innovations, but the second objective that we had for this project was the development of a platform in which we can test and validate some technologies that will be made available in the 2012 suit.
For this reason, the 2012 products now include technologies such as Autoscan, Autopilot, a seamless mechanism that makes sure performance is not affected while other operations take place, and a lot of other concepts that took birth in the Gonzales project.
Also there are cloud technologies, the Bitdefender malware detection engines, which make sure the detection rates are the same as in Total Security, and the AVC.
Technically speaking, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a simplified and somewhat limited version of Bitdefender Total Security. It was designed this way to make sure that when someone upgrades or purchases a product, they will feel its added value.
An interesting technology we use is the one that helps us ensure that computing performance is not impacted in any way. It mainly relies on the Autoscan mechanism used in Total Security.
Usually, antivirus solutions, once installed, alert the user on the fact that the system has not been scanned, mentioning the fact that there are 'issues'. Initially, we didn't even plan on implementing an on-demand scanning system, at this point, the system being available only to help those who write product reviews.
Our Autoscan actually works by scanning once a day all the critical system areas (System32, Program Files) and once a week it sweeps the entire system, regardless of the size of the hard drive. All this happens without any impact on the performance of the machine, tests being made with games and applications.
This background scanning relies on a system that could be perceived as being similar to the 'idle' scanning implemented in other solutions.
Normally, idle scanning means that when the application finds CPU resources, it steps in and scans the system. With Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition we not only took the concept to another level but we reinvented it all together.
Upon installation, a calibration library checks the CPU and hard disk performance in order to align the algorithms fine-tuning the impact in system performance with the overall system performance. Basically this ensures that whenever needed, Autoscan can run in background while heavy-duty tasks (gaming, for instance) are being performed in the foreground, without interfering with their performance.
This might not seem like something out of the ordinary, but we do it with a millisecond precision. For instance, let's take Photoshop. If we look at the performance graph when it loads, we can see that it doesn't take up all the system resources instantly, instead the graph oscillates.
In a simple test, if we were to compare how fast Photoshop would start on two identical computers, on one machine, the program runs without any interference, and on the other a scanning thread is launched.
While they would both start in precisely the same time, in the meanwhile, the scanning thread manages to scan somewhere around 2 files, which means that the scan is not fast, but it doesn't interfere in any way with the regular processes.Softpedia:
The product runs completely autonomously, without bothering the user with useless alerts and without the need for any configurations. What does it rely on to work in such a way?Alex Balan:
On the one hand this relies on the detection rates and on the other hand, on the event's type. For instance, if a file is detected with a precision rate of 100% as being malware, it will be deleted, but if it's detected as possibly being malware, it will be quarantined and rescanned every hour to check if the virus definition updates can provide some further information.Softpedia:
What are the components included in Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition? Is there a firewall, an email scanner, or other such component?Alex Balan:
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a basic solution that should be enough for anyone that requires basic (yet, reliable) security. The Free Edition has real-time protection and detection on HTTP and local disk activity, and the Autoscan feature that periodically sweeps the system.
The idea is to make sure that those who rely on this product will have no security issues, since this is our 'no security compromise' policy, and on HTTP for instance, there are features such as anti-phishing, anti-fraud and anti-malware. Softpedia:
You mentioned that cloud-based technologies are also utilized by Antivirus Free Edition. Can you provide some details?Alex Balan:
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition relies on cloud mostly for HTTP scanning, since in that area we can't afford to do too much processing, from a temporal point of view.
As I've mentioned before, the Autoscan feature scans very slowly but without any impact on the system resources, but on the other hand, we can't apply the same policies when it comes to HTTP since it would slow down the loading time of webpages, this being the main reason why cloud-based technologies are used.
The content of any webpage is compared to our fraud, phishing and malware databases and verified to make sure there isn't anything that might threaten the user.
In the near future we plan on integrating a new type of cloud-based engines that will allow for a faster scanning process, since the processing will take place in the cloud and not locally, and also, this technology will make sure that the product will always have available the latest virus definitions, as the cloud database is being constantly updated.Softpedia:
What minimum computing resources are needed for Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition to run?Alex Balan:
There might be situations where Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition will take up some resources, but we can promise that once the application accommodates itself to a system, the normal activities performed by the users will not be affected in any way.
Ideal system requirements are composed of 512 megabytes of RAM and a 1 gigahertz processor. Regarding the operating system, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition works only on Windows XP SP3 or later versions, ideally Windows 7.
On Windows 8 it's not yet certain whether it works or not. Our test revealed that it works sometimes but we can't guarantee it. On XP SP2 and previous versions, unfortunately it doesn't run.Softpedia:
Other security solutions providers have been offering free solutions for a long time now. What does Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition offer that others don't?Alex Balan:
First of all, unlike other vendors, we don't spam our customers. We consider the messages and advertisements served by the competitors to be very annoying for the user.
I find them to be very inelegant and if we do decide at some point to include advertisements in our products, it will certainly not be something that will bother, but something that will seem to come naturally.
Secondly, there is the detection rate, an advantage that Bitdefender products have over any other solution on the market. We're considered the best when it comes to detection rates.
In addition, the entire philosophy that's behind Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is beneficial, the concept of 'silence', of background processing, which makes sure there's no impact on the system resources, is another advantage.
We developed an antivirus that's the way an antivirus is supposed to be, and even though it might seem a bit cocky, this is the message we're trying to send out.
While others developed solutions that need a lot of configuring to function properly, our product functions and scans in the background, regardless of the applications that are running, without them being impacted, while the caching technologies and the engines do their work seamlessly.
Regarding the detection rates, AV-Test named us as the best company when it comes to the detection tests, all our product being certified.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
is available for download here.