Although some like to say "antivirus is dead" because of the explosion in malware that makes signature-based desktop protection harder than ever, start-up Immunet wants to bring new life to antivirus scanning through cloud computing.

Founded by CEO Oliver Friedrichs, former director of emerging technologies at Symantec, Immunet is developing what Friedrichs calls "the next generation antivirus product" that's based on a cloud-styled antivirus platform that will work with a fairly lightweight desktop agent to block and destroy malware. "Our goal is to reinvent the antivirus space."

"With the cloud-based antivirus platform, there's no downloading," Friedrichs says.The Windows-based desktop agent, about 4MB, "queries the Immunet cloud. All our knowledge base is in the cloud, and it can grow indefinitely. It also lets us remediate false positives immediately. We operate like a standard A/V product except we're a tenth of the usual size."

Immunet has had a free beta version out since last year, which is said to be in use by about 60,000 individuals, and the start-up expects to have a commercial product for the consumer market in the second quarter. The firm last November received about $2m in venture funding from ALTOS Ventures and TechOperators.

Immunet, founded in 2008, has about 10 employees, including former Symantec vice president of engineering Alfred Huger, who holds the same title at Immunet, as well as director of cloud engineering Adam O'Donnell, who held the same title at antispam messaging security firm CloudMark.

Friedrichs says the cloud-based collective-intelligence approach developed by Immunet works quickly to add new detection signatures, and though the tiny start-up is surrounded by several far larger players in the antivirus market that are also developing their own cloud-based approaches to malware detection, Immunet believes its approach outstrips "what larger incumbents are doing today."

Immunet is also building its software agent to "run alongside McAfee, Symantec and AVG as well as about 23 other products," Friedrichs says, adding the ability to co-exist with more antivirus products are being added all the time.

The idea behind this co-existence is that Immunet watches what another antivirus product might be doing to protect the user on the desktop to learn about new threats so "we're harnessing the collective power on another A/V," Friedrichs says. Immunet is mainly focused on core file-based threats, and when it comes to web downloads, "we'll catch the threat if it hits your hard drive."

Immunet operates its own crawlers and sensors to collect evidence of threats. As to whether Immunet now feels in competition with Symantec, where Friedrichs and Huger used to work, Friedrichs will only say, "We have a good working relationship with them. The companies work together on many cases."