Taking The 64-Bit Risk

When it comes to computing power, 64-bit desktop and servers are state-of-the-art in most respects, but they could be less secure than mainstream 32-bit systems.

Because companies like AMD, Intel and Microsoft are pushing 64-bit computing, though, companies have no choice but to prepare for it, contends Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

“As enterprises migrate to this new architecture, keeping their systems protected from viruses, spyware and other threats will remain a priority.”

One company that is ahead of the game, Enderle said, is security software firm ESET, which announced this week that its main product, NOD32, offers malware protection for x64 versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

NOD32 integrates the ThreatSense detection system, which uses advanced heuristics to identify previously unknown malware in real time. The company said ThreatSense is built into NOD32’s single, unified scanning engine, which is designed as a single solution without the need for additional upgrades or products for spyware and adware protection.

Andrew Lee, CTO of ESET, said that, as a relatively small company, it can more quickly address the latest hardware and operating systems.

“The major [anti-virus] players haven’t stayed ahead,” Lee told internetnews.com. “The adoption of new hardware is way ahead of security.”

He said ESET has gained converts among gamers and other users who place a high priority on performance because ThreatSense requires a mere 8MB of storage, whereas some other antivirus suites require several hundred megabytes, which can slow performance when scanning.

NOD32 is $1,495 for a 50-user small business for one year, which includes licenses for a file and mail server and 50 desktops. Pricing for individual home and home office users begins at $39.

At least one antivirus vendor said it will have a 64-bit solution later this summer. In a statement, Gregor Freund, CEO of Zone Labs, said the company was working closely with Intel, AMD and Microsoft and planned to port its ZoneAlarm line to 64-bit compatibility, with a beta or test version out later this summer.

There have been no serious 64-bit-specific attacks to date, though Symantec intercepted the first known virus targeting 64-bit Windows. According to the company, W64.Shruggle.1318 was a fairly simple “proof-of-concept” virus programmed to attack 64-bit Windows executables on AMD64 systems.

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