Note: This review addresses the first
version of the product.
Standalone antivirus product Microsoft Security Essentials has
caused a stir, as might be expected when the words “Microsoft” and
“free” are involved. In a post on the day of its launch, I referenced AV-Test
performance results from a MSE beta. We now have new results from
tests conducted against the final product, and overall MSE looks
Malware detection: MSE detected 98.44 percent
of AV-Tests’s collected zoo of 545,034 viruses, worms, backdoors,
bots and Trojans, an entirely respectable showing. However, it
didn’t do nearly as well when it came to detecting adware and
spyware, such as bank info stealers, and detected only 90.95
percent of the 14,222 samples.
As expected, MSE detected 100 percent of the samples in the
Wildlist. Most reputable AV apps detect all the Wildlist
Dynamic/behavioral detection: If a program
includes behavioral detection, it can identify malware based solely
on how it acts on a PC. It’s a useful feature for detecting
brand-new malware that doesn’t yet have a signature.
AV-Test found that MSE doesn’t include any effective behavioral
detection. However, AV-Test’s Andreas Marx noted that’s typically
the case for standalone antivirus programs, and that you’ll
generally need to buy a security suite to get the feature.
Or, you can pair your free or paid standalone AV program with PC
Tools’ free Threatfire, which adds an impressive layer of
behavioral detection to your security arsenal.
Disinfection: MSE was able to clean up all of
the active components from 25 different test infections, meaning
the malware was effectively neutered. As is usually the case, the
program often left behind some traces of the infection, such as
registry entries or a turned-off Windows firewall.
Rootkit removal: MSE did well here. It
identified and removed all 25 rootkits (stealth technology used to
hide other malware) used in the tests.
Scan speed: When I compared the MSE beta to
other free (and finished) AV apps over the summer, it came in last
for scanning speed. In these latest tests, Marx says that MSE scan
speed “is quite OK when compared with other AV products” – not the
fastest, but not the slowest.
False alarms: Security Essentials didn’t put up
any false positives for any of 600,000 known clean files used by
Windows, Office and other common apps. However, as Marx notes, most
of those files come from Microsoft, so a false positive would have
Overall, these results show that Security Essentials holds its
own as a free standalone antivirus app. As with most other options
in that category, it doesn’t provide a firewall, behavioral
detection, or other security extras. But since Vista and Windows 7
already include a two-way firewall, and you can add top-notch
behavioral protection with another free app, MSE looks like a good
budget choice for baseline antivirus protection.
Note: This link takes you to the vendor’s site, where you
can download the version of the software appropriate to your