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Anti-virus protection in 64-bit environments

Start64!Considering the present status of informatics, it is not worth using a computer without running some basic security programs. The issue of security even more pronounced in the case of complex systems. The main point is that even the smallest IT system component is practically useless if you do not use some security solution. In other words: in practice, IT systems and workstations will prove equally useless without anti-virus protection. In this article we will review the current status of 64-bit anti-virus protection.


You need three basic softwares to provide IT security on your computer:

  • Anti-virus protection
  • Anti-spyware
  • Firewall

You can find a lot of documents about IT security. We do not intend to clarify basic concepts here, nor do we want to take any position regarding this matter. We accept it as a fact that every computer user needs anti-virus protection, a firewall and an anti-spyware program.

Each 64-bit Windows release includes a firewall. This provides a certain level of protection but will probably be found insufficient if the computer is used continuously. Currently, the Tiny Firewall 64 program can offer a good solution. We do not have a wide range to choose from, but it is also worth taking a closer look at XP firewall control and ZoneAlarm 64-bit programs.

In the field of anti-spyware programs the Windows Defender Beta 2 build 1051 x64 offers the only solution. This software is maintained on a continuous basis, and is updated online. It properly performs its tasks, and is suitable to provide basic protection in this special field.

In the field of anti-virus protection you can choose from more options but it is by far not certain that each of the programs discussed here can actually provide that level of security which their 32-bit counterparts offer. Understandably, quite a number of opinions, technical and business aspects may clash in this regard, too. In my opinion, it is especially important with anti-virus software that any given program would operate not only in 64-bit-compatible mode. It is very likely that only native 64-bit software can offer true protection against viruses. The reason for that is very simple: viruses do not or do not always run, infect, operate on the highest layer from the operating system’s point of view. It is obvious that an anti-virus program can grant protection against viruses only ‘down to’ that level where it is still compatible with the given operating system. And 64-bit programs are the most compatible ones. Today there is but one company, Computer Associates, which offers overall native 64-bit anti-virus protection. There are two programs available:

It is quite obvious that if you want to buy the software you should choose the r8 release, but if you are still in the pre-migration phase and running a test environment, the r7.1 release could be more suitable due to its 90-day trial period. Both solutions are supported on a continuous basis. 

Your next option is the Symantec AntiVirus for 64-Bit Windows Clients. This is not a standalone COTS solution but part of the Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition suite. Symantec recommends this software to be used specially in 64-bit environments. This release cannot be installed on 32-bit systems. The larger part of the program is 32-bit but it also contains some 64-bit component running in the deeper layers of the system. Probably, the 32-bit code segments have not been modified too much but only supplemented with some 64-bit codes. Nevertheless, Symantec states that this program is suitable to provide 64-bit protection, and this must be true if they say so.

avast!

The current 4.6 version of avast! is not a standalone 64-bit product any longer but a program that uses the same installation kit as the 32-bit version and promises compatibility with the 64-bit technology. The manufacturer details 64-bit compatibility and its implementation on the software’s data sheet. According to the description, the installation program detects the operating system and installs the appropriate components based on its findings. The installation kit includes a native kernel-level driver and will install that if a 64-bit system is detected. Our heightened mood was somewhat lowered when we scrolled down a bit but could not find the 64-bit support in the PLATFORMS list.

Web pages do not necessarily provide all information
Web pages do not necessarily provide all information

 

Where has the 64 bit gone?
Where has the 64 bit gone?

 

Eset NOD32 Anti-Virus

The Eset NOD32 Anti-Virus also promises 64-bit compatibility. With this program we have a single installation package for both the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions again. Except for the download section of the web site, we will not find any reference to 64-bit compatibility. All we can say is that it installs on the 64-bit XP operating system and seems to be working. Based on the components listed by the Task Manager and the Administrative Tools Service, the running processes are 32-bit. We installed the Hungarian language version. The system displayed the information in incorrect characters:

What remains is the feeling of uncertainty...
What remains is the feeling of uncertainty...
 

 AVG Anti Virus

AVG Anti Virus also promises 64-bit support on its home page. At least that is what a single animated GIF suggests. When you check the supported systems, it turns out that this includes only the MS Windows XP Pro x64 Edition operating system, as their support does not cover the MS Windows 2003 Server x64 Edition. No further information can be found about the nature of the support. The software installed on the 64-bit XP without any problems. When the installation process was complete, it launched 32-bit processes. We also had a minor flaw here as well: the System group on the About dialogue identified our 64-bit Windows XP operating system as Windows 2003 (or at least it indicated so), and that left us with that familiar feeling of uncertainty again.

Another uncertain situation
Another uncertain situation


Summary

Software support is appropriate with every program at the level of the virus definition database. The 32-bit and 64-bit version must be compatible with each other at this level. In the course of the test, both solutions offered by Computer Associates proved to be suitable from every aspect, and these were the only two programs that provided fully native 64-bit protection. If you want to purchase the software, we recommend you to buy the r8 release. If you want to run it in a test environment , the r7.1 release may be your best choice as it offers a 90-day trial period.

All the other programs were written mainly in 32-bit code containing some 64-bit components, but none of them appeared at the level of the processes displayed by the Task Manager. Most probably, these are kernel-level 64-bit components. On the service layer and above all of these programs are 32-bit. The avast! precisely informs you about this, while in the case of the other programs the 64-bit code segments are assumed to exist. Perhaps, more thorough investigations could be done concerning this matter. However, it makes one wonder why the manufacturers do not provide more detailed information about 64-bit compatibility as this is a big deficiency in the case of a security program. Hybrid code anti-virus programs can provide a sufficient level of protection today. When 64-bit systems get widespread, probably so will those viruses that can exploit the gaps left by not entirely native 64-bit anti-virus programs. But we have time before that, and hopefully we will have a wider range of programs to choose from at that time.

The Symantec AntiVirus for 64-Bit Windows Clients is a product specially optimized for 64-bit. Despite it being a hybrid code solution, it provides an appropriate level of protection. It is rather difficult to obtain it for home use as it is not marketed by retail vendors.

Each of the other three programs contains at least one bug that makes a hopeful buyer uncertain. These bugs seem to have much in common with the ones which usually occur in beta version software. And as we are talking about security software here, this uncertainty is not reassuring at all. We are curious about what the future may bring in this respect.

We may have been unusually rigorous but we are convinced that no security software should contain so obvious bugs. We would like to trust the protection of our data, our system and our bank account to these programs. If the developers failed to notice these simple or simple looking bugs, we can assume that there are other bugs remaining in the software.

New versions (2010-12-28):

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