Security vendor Trusteer's latest product will allow banks to remotely investigate their customers' computers if it is suspected the PC has been hacked.

The service, called Flashlight, is designed to enable banks security experts to quickly identify what types of malicious software programs customers are encountering in order to build better defenses, said Mickey Boodaei, Trusteer's CEO.

Now if a bank wants to see if a customer's computer is infected, the computer usually has to be either physically taken to a lab or the hard disk has to be copied, he said.

Flashlight detects malicious software programs on the computer and can send a report along with a copy of the suspicious program, Boodaei said.

"If they find a new piece of malware they haven't seen before on their customer's computer, this malware comes to us, we reverse engineer it and find out about its capabilities," Boodaei said.

The scenario under which Flashlight would be used is if a customer calls a bank to check on a possible fraud. The fraud investigation team would ask the person to install Flashlight, which can detect if the browser has been previously tampered with. The customer would be asked to send a log report, which can then be analyzed while the customer is on the phone, Boodaei said.

Flashlight can also send other data, such as details of a PC's operating system, version number of applications and whether antivirus software was up-to-date at the time of the infection.

Financial institutions also have the option of using their own analysts to inspect the malware. Flashlight is an add-on for Rapport, a widely deployed Trusteer product designed to harden browsers against malware, although both products can be used independently of one another. Rapport is a voluntary download, and users have the option of sending security events and error logs anonymously to Trusteer, or sending no information at all.

Rapport, which has about 4.5 million users in the UK and 3 million in the US, builds an access control layer between a web browser and any other software on a user's computer, Boodaei said.

Rapport is designed to prevent interference from advanced malware programs such as Zeus that can inject HTML into web pages, grab one-time passcodes and tamper with transactions. About 50 financial institutions have offered Rapport to their customers, including NatWest and HSBC in the UK, Boodaei said.

Rapport has performed well but Trusteer does have to periodically update it to counter evolving attack methods, Boodaei said.

"We are being attacked all the time," Boodaei said. "Because of our significant presence, they [hackers] do see that as a threat. It's a constant battle."

Trusteer has a couple of pricing options for Flashlight. Banks can pay on a basis of how many times they initiate an investigation of a customer's computer, Boodaei said. The second option is a flat fee based on an institution's number of online banking customers, he said.

Last week the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said online banking fraud amounted to more than $120 million for the third quarter of 2009.