A growing wave of malware is plaguing Web banking, and new attacks are so effective that the market for a second line of defense is buzzing with activity.

Prevx, for example, is offering a free program that allows banks, governments and e-commerce sites to sign up for its business partner program that offers malware protection, real-time reports that highlight threats, and customer support-and rides on top of whatever Web security program the institution is already using.

"We add an extra layer of online protection," says Mel Morris, CEO of Prevx, whose system operates as if the end user's computer is already infected with malware. The UK-based vendor builds a cocoon around the online banking transaction on the consumer's PC.

Prevx has no announced bank customers, but recently struck a deal to resell its services through UK-based CPP Group, which provides identity theft protection and other security services to card issuers including HSBC and Citibank. "The problem is most banks are still reluctant to get involved with desktop software," says Avivah Litan, vp and distinguished analyst at Gartner, which says 41 percent of U.S. and 38 percent of UK consumers say security is the most important reason for not banking online.

How will Prevx make money? Prevx will detect problems for free, but if a customer wants to remove the malware from the PC, he or she will be charged a subscription fee (about $25 annually). "The customer can use us to remove the malware or report the malware to their security vendor to have them remove it," Morris says.

SafeOnline works by installing a kernel-level driver on Windows PCs; all information entered during an online banking session routs through that driver-preventing intrusions aimed at recording keystrokes. As such, the PC operating system and browser is completely "locked down," and the malware is blind to the transaction, so transactions can be secured even on infected machines.

Prevx's was given high marks by penetration testing vendor Immunity, which tested the software against malware such as Zeus, SilentBanker, Mebroot, Sinowal and Torpig. "The money banks are losing is from customers that have been infected by malware. Banks have a vested interest in having customers being slightly more protected than the bank next door," says Dave Aitel, CTO of Immunity.

Other firms in the space include Trusteer and Symantec. Mickey Boodaei, founder and CEO of rival Trusteer, says his firm-which has about 20 clients in Europe and North America-blocks and quarantines malware from accessing online banking sessions and information.

But Boodaei cautions removing malware is an intrusive operation. "What happens if the customer's computer is damaged in the process?" he asks. That's exactly the business most banks are loathe to get into.

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