Silicon Valley startup ZeroVulnerabilityLabs has made available a free program it claims stops malware from exploiting a wide range of software vulnerabilities regardless of whether these flaws are publically known or not.

Available now in a beta version for consumers and non-profits (the business version requires a license), ExploitShield Browser Edition is designed to be “install and forget,” the company said.

Once installed, the software named 17 applications as being protected, including the most common and troublesome ones such as Adobe Reader and Flash, Java, Microsoft Office, various browsers and a number of video players. Others may be added in future.

Security innovations pop up from time to time and this one represents a lateral approach to what has become a major – possibly the major issue – for consumers and businesses alike; how to secure PCs when software flaws crop up on an almost daily basis.

The overwhelming majority of Windows malware attacks now hook into common flaws as a way of infecting their targets with many automated using commercial exploit kits serving attacks from compromised websites. Patching is one answer but this can be exhausting. The number of flaws has become a major overhead even for single consumers.

At the same time it has become apparent that conventional antivirus software isn’t stopping all or even most of this kind of malware which raises an obvious question: what is ExploitShield doing that is different?

The company is keeping its technology to itself but describes the approach as “anti-exploit” or “application shielding,” and claims it was able to block recent high-profile zero-day exploit attacks that hit Internet Explorer and Java.

If ZeroVulnerabilityLabs has come up with software that can do that with any reliability it will become a very hot property indeed.

What it is not, for now, is whitelisting, blacklisting, sandboxing, nor does it fingerprint malware, an approach it rightly identifies as obsolete. Heuristics? The company seems not to like that term either in its online literature.

“When ExploitShield detects a shielded application being exploited it automatically stops the malicious code from executing. Once stopped it will automatically close the attacked application,” the company said on its website.

“ExploitShield does not need to disinfect as it prevents all vulnerability-driven infections in the first place.”

Corporate users will be able to select and manage each protected application individually. The software - verison 0.7 - can be downloaded from the firm's website with beta testers being sought.