Microsoft Security Essentials Free Antivirus Review
Real-time protection for home or small business PC. Guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.
Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the more popular free antivirus programs available. Produced by Microsoft, it’s simple and intuitive, albeit plagued by some of the problems inherent to its namesake operating system.
Microsoft Security Essentials provides on-access or resident virus protection, making it a suitable replacement to antivirus software from companies like McAfee and Norton that charge for their software and for annual updates. It uses the Malware Protection Engine, which is the same as the Forefront Client Security product. Virus definitions are shared among all key products of Microsoft, including OneCare, Windows Defender, and Forefront. Installation automatically disables Windows Defender as both are not necessary and Microsoft Security Essentials takes over the responsibilities of malware/spyware protection from Defender.
The program is by its nature a lightweight antivirus, which makes it remarkably easy to use. Its main home screen displays your protection and update status, details of the last scan was carried out and the option for a quick, full or custom scan. Custom scans, allow for any directory on a local or removable drive to be selected.
Microsoft Security Essentials isn’t available for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 and it comes as the default protection system for Windows 10. For these two previous versions – it has been replaced by Windows Defender. All updates to Defender are downloaded via the Windows Update utility, Windows 7 and earlier OC versions still require the separate Security Essentials program to be downloaded.
Microsoft Security Essentials Free Antivirus Performance
Microsoft Security Essentials scores well in live threat-testing environments, although the brand has previously admitted that the software should only be used as “baseline” protection. It is a little more prone to misidentifying legitimate software as malicious compared to other free antivirus programs and in some cases – the program even refuses to update or scan because it falsely flags the system with running a pirated copy of Windows.
In terms of threat detection – Microsoft Security Essentials fails to keep up and not has a poorer detection score, it also takes considerably longer to run a scan. On a malware-infested test system, the antivirus takes over an hour to run a complete scan. Scanning a standard clean test system takes about 72 minutes, which is about twice the average. Despite the lengthy scan, cleanup is not very thorough either with Microsoft Security Essentials detecting 63% of the threats, lower than any other free antivirus. It fails to detect executable files and many of the ones it flags and removes still run after their alleged removal. This gives it a poor malware cleanup score – the lowest of any current product.
The good news is that Microsoft Security Essentials doesn’t seem to hurt the performance of the systems and scores well within the industry averages across the board. In addition to that – the more a PC is up-to-date, the better performance this antivirus exhibits. This means that computers with the latest Microsoft security updates installed alongside Security Essentials will result in an acceptable level of protection.
The main problem of Microsoft Security Essentials is that it is designed to only be effective against prevalent attacks and can easily miss any of the other common malware threats.
Microsoft Security Essentials Free Antivirus Experience
The software is one of the most easy to use and unobtrusive. It sits in the status bar quietly doing its work, only notifying users about scans and potential vulnerabilities. It works in conjunction with Windows Update so it’s one less piece of software to worry about updating.
The main window has four tabs: the Home screen shows when the last scan was and whether there are any problems that need resolving, while the Update, History and Settings tabs are self-explanatory. The Settings icon links directly to Windows’ main Update & Security settings. From there the user can disable or re-enable features, including real-time and cloud-based protection and the automatic submission of potentially malicious files to Microsoft, as well as exclude specific folders, files, processes or file extensions from Defender’s scans.
Updates and upgrades are automatic, which means there’s no need to worry about having the latest protection. When the Security Essentials icon is green, your protection status is good. It’s as simple as that.
Despite being a very basic piece of software, there are sufficient useful settings to schedule or run a scan. By default, scans are scheduled to run on Sundays, but this can be easily changed from the options and you can even schedule daily scans.
Underpowered PC with a slow processor will benefit from the feature of limiting how much CPU power Security Essentials is allowed to use, giving users space to run other programs at the same time. You can also prevent scans from running if your PC is in use, in which case the software will instead waiting until your machine is idle to carry out its work.
Users can exclude certain file locations and file types from scans, and you can also exclude processes to decrease the number of false positives.
Microsoft Security Essentials Free Antivirus Pros and Cons
Microsoft Security Essentials 4.0 does a good job protecting a clean and up-do-date PC, but it doesn’t hold its own in already-infested systems or against varied threats. Users can get better protection from the other free antivirus products.
Pros of Microsoft Security Essentials
- Provides resident protection from viruses, spyware and other malware
- Virus definitions are updated automatically and regularly
- Small download size
- Quick and very easy to install
- Does not attempt to install unrelated software
- Works with Windows 7 and Vista (It’s included with Windows 8 and Windows 10)
- Cons of Microsoft Security Essentials
- Unusually slow scan.
- Fails to run on some systems
- Low detection rate in malware cleanup performance.
- Fails to thoroughly clean up threats it detects.
Microsoft Security Essentials is downloadable for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. It includes fully functional engines to guard against viruses and other kinds of malware. Its interface is easy to use and has enough features to schedule on-demand scanner for manual malware checks. Files, locations, file types, and processes can all be excluded from scans if desired. The simple green/red indicator makes it easy to see if your system protected. Microsoft Security Essentials updates regularly to keep its malware knowledge current and can be used to scan archives and removable drives in a full scan.