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Microsoft Security Essentials provides basic anti-virus and anti-spyware scanning for free. It appears to be a reasonable anti-malware tool for many.

I downloaded virus protection for my new Windows 7 based computer from Microsoft web site for free. It seems that I no longer need to purchase virus protection is that correct? I was confused to find that HP had installed a free year of Norton on my new machine. What gives here?

Well, to begin with, you never really needed to purchase anything - there have been lots of good, free security tools out there for a long time.

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of opinion.

And in recent months my opinion has changed somewhat.

Microsoft Security Essentials

What's changed is my opinion of Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). I now believe that it's "good enough" for many circumstances. I'll probably end up giving it a formal recommendation in the not too distant future.

"... no matter how good the tools are, no solution or combination of solutions will catch everything."

What's also changed is that I've added it as an exception to one of my rules of thumb.

I've never been a big fan of all-in-one suites like Norton, typically preferring to choose separate anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their individual merits.

Microsoft Security Essentials does both anti-spyware and anti-virus. Throw in the built-in Windows Firewall and it's a good, basic and free security setup.

It does have some drawbacks. For example, it enables Automatic Updates for all of Windows whether you want that or not. Personally I believe you do want to automatically update. It's particularly good for people who just want an answer without having to think about the details. Others who might wish to pick and choose Windows updates may feel differently and will want to choose a different solution.

MSE appears to be solid, but certainly hasn't tested out as the best in most of the on-line comparisons. If you feel that you want better protection, then yes - you can go out and find additional or replacement tools that might catch a bit more. The tests concern me a little, though, as no matter how good the tools are, no solution or combination of solutions will catch everything. It can't be done.

I don't want people to get a false sense of security (literally), or become complacent because they picked a tool that rated slightly higher in some test. That's all well and good, but it's not an indication of absolute bullet-proof security.

Ultimately, there's still no substitute for common sense.

So I expect I'll soon be recommending MSE as a good basic anti-malware solution. If it doesn't feel "good enough" to you, based on others' evaluations or your own experience, or some other tool operates in more of a way that you're comfortable with, then by all means evaluate alternatives.

And of course you can choose from free or paid tools to do so.

Article C4364 - July 9, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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42 Comments
Greg Bulmash
July 9, 2010 2:50 PM

I use a combo of Security Essentials and AVG's free software. Used to use AdAware a few years back, but it only ever caught "tracking cookies" which I thought was a bit extreme. Spybot Search and Destroy seemed good, but a little buggy.

For personal use, I'd also recommend Sandboxie. It lets you run browsers in sandboxed processes so if you get nailed by a driveby malware install, it gets trapped in the sandbox.

Mark Jacobs
July 9, 2010 4:28 PM

I use Avira, Ad-aware and MS-Firewall. I tried Zone alarm and Comodo and they slow down my computer. MS Firewall with an excellent configurable router (FritzBox) should be enough.

Thomas Mitchell
July 9, 2010 4:35 PM

I prefer Avast as my resident scanner for all activities and Zone Alarm as my inbound and outbound Firewall. These and as Leo says a lot of common sense have kept me virus free for a long time now.

Jim
July 10, 2010 6:29 AM

Leo-I tried MSE for a while at Paul Thurrott's suggestion, but I found it was a major resource hog. I was doing video editing and I would kill the process, and it would pop right back up. It would not stop. I emailed Paul and he recommended Panda, which I now use on 2 machines.

Good data. I've been running MSE on my primary desktop for several months, and also do assorted video editing. I've not experienced what you're experiencing, though. It's possible that it's just a configuration difference, or perhaps MSE is particularly sensitive to certain types of operations that your editing software uses that mine does not. (I use Sony Vegas and Camtasia).
Leo
10-Jul-2010

Ollie Katz
July 11, 2010 7:25 AM

I have been testing MSE with a Dell Mini 1012 Netbook. The combination of Win 7 Starter, Intel Atom 450 and MSE seem to work well for Office 2007, Web and email use.
No problems after about 2 weeks of use.

Bob
July 13, 2010 8:03 AM

Reading the comments - I would NOT recommend Panda.
Panda was our office protection, and once the subscription expired, the IT team got rid of it.
The updating was buggy, the protection sub-standard (it let through infections that free web-tools subsequently dealt with), and never seemed to do automatic scans even though it was configured to.

david
July 13, 2010 9:27 AM

Panda has been going downhill in the past 3 years or so (IMO). I use kaspersky and haven't had any problems but YMMV. You can get a license for as little as 15 bucks for one pc on ebay.

Ken Laninga
July 13, 2010 9:31 AM

Excellent article, Leo. My new Asus lappy also came with a free year of Norton installed. I hate to say it, but now, I LIKE Norton. Still, I liked MSE very much too and will very probably NOT renew Norton but go back to the FREE (my middle name!) Microsoft Security Essentials when Norton runs out.

SORRY, Mr. Norton ;-)

Bill
July 13, 2010 9:40 AM

Agree with Leo's comments. I have MSE on 5 systems as a replacement for the expired OneCare subscriptions. Users vary from a tech nut to a person who believes the computer is an appliance; all are happy with it. Many have commented that they especially like that it is unobtrusive. I wish the excellent OneCare Firewall had been included.

Jean-Pierre
July 13, 2010 9:52 AM

I fully agree with the opinion on "PANDA going downhill". I used it for 2 years (duration of the licence), I got too many problems (e.g. conflict between its firewal and my router firewall).
It eventually simply "refused" to be activated, but issuing warnings about not being active ! (This was within the licence period !). Impossible to uninstall, even with the tool provides by the PANDA assistance.
I finally resolved re-formatting the disk (after having made a backup) and re-installing WINDOWS. Not an easy task ! Thank you PANDA.
I switched to AVAST which is free and apparently as efficient as PANDA.

Lanerd
July 13, 2010 10:12 AM

I use MSE and find it to work very well , I switched from Avast free which also worked well . I back the AV up with Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware . This has left me relatively issue free .

Kathy P
July 13, 2010 10:15 AM

When I got my new Asus laptop Windows 7 last November, it came with Kaperski for 3 mos.; I then renewed it for a year. However; now the Windows Defender (I assume is a part of the MSE program) won't let me update or do anything with my paid software. Can I safely remove WD while I have the pd software and then reinstall WD when K expires?

Len
July 13, 2010 10:46 AM

I recently purchased two new computers, one lpatop and one desktop. I loaded MSE on both and was very pleased with the performance. MSE worked well. However, I foolishly developed a problem with the laptop and had to resort to recovery. After recovery I downloaded MSE for the laptop again and it would not install. No matter what I tried I could not get and use MSE. I had to go back to AVG for any form of protection. I don't know why or if that has ever happened to anyone else.

Bob in Oregon
July 13, 2010 11:35 AM

I've been using MS Security Essential on three computers for many months, with zero problems. I love how transparent it is. And I can not say how delighted I am to dump Norton - Norton with their oh-so-clever marketing and rebates and outrageous renewal fees if you just take the easy route. Whenever I paid for Norton and installed it I *knew* someone else had gotten it for a lot less - and that really angered me - but I saw no safe alternative.
So I really do appreciate the MS product. Goodbye Norton!

Jonathan Plutchok
July 13, 2010 11:54 AM

After reading many favorable reviews, I started using MSE too. Bad choice. Suddenly various programs stopped working (e.g., Juice stopped downloading podcasts, I could not activate Giveawayoftheday programs, and more). MSE never popped up any alerts or questions, and never gave me an option to allow the programs to access the Internet. I might have manually entered them in an exceptions list, but that's too much trouble. Moreover, you can't easily disable MSE when needed. Its vaunted simplicity and transparency became a drawback. I'm back with Avast AV and Comodo firewall now.

Errol Greer
July 13, 2010 11:57 AM

I have a multiboot system- XP, Vista, Win7 and Ubuntu. MSE runs with little or no overhead on Vista and Win7, but in my case it is VERY intrusive on XP. Hogs the CPU when starting up for some time and slows everything down when starting almost any activity. Anyone else had this experience ?

lorcan
July 13, 2010 12:00 PM

i've been using MSE for some months now on Vostro 1500 from Dell. Happy to say that it seems to be faultless so far!

Ian Rivlin
July 13, 2010 12:03 PM

Windows Firewall is probably not sophisticated enough (but the router's firewall is another benefit). I hope MSE has better pickup for malware than Defender did. I've been extremely impressed with Comodo's malware and firewall - (it's free). ESET is excellent too. I suspect with ant virus that you get what you pay for???

David
July 13, 2010 12:57 PM

On my 5-year-old 1GB XP system MSE was gobbling up 100% of the CPU for six full minutes after I logged on. Fortunately, the university where I'm employed has a site license for Symantec Endpoint Protection, so I installed that a few weeks ago and everything is running very well.

James
July 13, 2010 1:07 PM

I have to say that I'm actually surprised MS came up with a pretty A/V. If you take a look at the AV-Comparatives result of tests of these antiviruses, you can see that in the latest test, MS Essentials was included, and it stacks up well against those like BitDefender, NOD32, and Kaspersky, all top notched antiviruses. Take a look at their results: http://www.av-comparatives.org/images/stories/test/ondret/avc_report26.pdf

Ray Wilkes
July 13, 2010 1:12 PM

I have found MSE excellent after years of Norton
Some people have problems but there is an Microsoft Forum to help

John Walker
July 13, 2010 1:23 PM

I am running Vista, and use a cable modem, 1 - router for a video phone, another router for my home phone, and I installed the MSCE about 3 months ago.
Before installing that, I had numerouse issues with routers conflicting each other, and causing my cable modem to have issues.
Since installing the security pack, I have had ZERO issues, and everything works great all the time.
I was told you could not use both "wired and wireless" routers toigether, but I run them 24/7 because they run piggyback and in tandom. I installed them according to instructions that came with each router, as there are steps to do if running both types.
As far as being secure.
Yes, I feel very secure since the install of the MS Security suite.
I have it as a stand alone unit, and each router has it's own firewall, as does the cable modem.
I do not need to have other AV installed.
Great work for MS for going to this suite.

Gwyn
July 13, 2010 2:00 PM

"Well, to begin with, you never really needed to purchase anything - there have been lots of good, free security tools out there for a long time."
Is it not the case, however, that if some malware does manage to get through to your pc then you will have to pay most (all?) of these security programs before they will sort out the malware for you?

Absolutely Not. There are many anti-malware solutions that are truly free. There are scams and sales techniques out there, but there are many, many good solutions that are free. Naming a few names: Avira, Avast, AVG, MalwareBytes, Spybot, Microsoft Security Essentials, to name just a few. (Apologies to the truly free I might have overlooked.)
Leo
14-Jul-2010

Jeff Hill
July 13, 2010 2:21 PM

Leo,
I teach virtual classes, and depending where the client's students are located, I may be teaching at odd hours. During one class, AU ran and rebooted while the students were doing labs (and I was grabbing a shower). I came back to find I'd been disconnected from the session. Consequently, I now have Windows Update set to download and notify me of new updates.

In the article, you state: "It does have some drawbacks. For example, it enables Automatic Updates for all of Windows whether you want that or not. Personally I believe you do want to automatically update. It's particularly good for people who just want an answer without having to think about the details. Others who might wish to pick and choose Windows updates may feel differently and will want to choose a different solution."

Does that mean that it simply sets "install automatically" the as the default, meaning I can reset my preference to "download and notify", or does it actually force all subsequent updates to be applied automatically and disable the other options?

It's been a while since I looked, so I could easily be wrong, but I believe it's the worst possible scenario for your situation: it sets it to update and install automatically, and it resets to that setting if you change it.
Leo
14-Jul-2010

Roger
July 13, 2010 2:47 PM

To George, there are a number of completely free antivirus which not only detect viruses and other malware, but also remove them for free.

Microsoft Security Essentials is one, but there are other with some of the major ones being: Avast, AntiVir (Avira), AVG and Rising Antivirus.

In particular the detection rates for Avast and AntiVir come very close to that of the best piad antivirus software.

Steve
July 13, 2010 2:54 PM

With MSE, you can't see it working MOST of the time...and I love that. The fact that I don't think (or don't know whether I don't) have any virii or malwhatever is as good as actually not having anything. Biggest issue with MSE is that when it is working, it is a bit of a hog mostly momentarily and upon system start, and it runs for hours when doing a full scan (just C:, not the external drives). OK, so I still love it.

Anthony Martellacci
July 13, 2010 3:19 PM

Actually M.S.E found & helped me to get rid of a nasty IE8 redirect that, Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware didn't,& every other freeware & even AVG didn't. Microsoft has come a long way to providing a free, good protection for it's computers, but feel free to use whatever your fancy desires & your used to

Calvin
July 13, 2010 3:32 PM

I sort of like MSE. It works fine on Windows 7 and Vista (tried on both 32 and 64 bit versions), but I installed it on several XP computers where it was a huge resource hog. It's great for non computer savvy people in large part because it does everything in the background. I personally have an issue with it. You can't easily turn it off. If you use task manager to shut it down, it restarts itself. It also deletes files from your computer without your permission. I have a couple programs that I rarely use but find useful (One on WinUBCD) that it feels are malware. It popped up a warning, then deleted the files without my wanting to. So.. to me it does not serve my purposes but it's great for me to install on friends and family's computers. Reduces the number of calls I get to fix/clean them.

ron
July 13, 2010 5:21 PM

I too have been using MSE along with Win Firewall as the base of my antimalware for a few months now. Works well enough for me. Of course I also run weekly scans using several of the other freeware tools.

I recently came across an addon that allowed me to use feel comfortable with Win Firewall. That is "Windows 7 Firewall Control" from http://www.sphinx-soft.com/Vista/order.html. There is a freeware version that allows you to control network incoming/outgoing access by program, like the "major" firewalls have for years now.

(PS: No, I'm not associated with sphinx)

Alan Buckley
July 13, 2010 8:53 PM

I have been useing MSE for some time now. Yesterday I noticed that my machine was running slow so after I ran MSE I downloaded a prog. called Malwarebites and found 7 infections. Now my mchn. is back to normal.

Chris
July 14, 2010 6:01 AM

MSE never changed my Automatic Updates for me. I still get to "customize" which updates I want to download.

Michael Horowitz
July 14, 2010 11:26 AM

I recently had to clean malware off a computer running an up to date copy of MSE. In addition to installing itself, the malware also updated the proxy server settings in Windows. Nuff said.

Bill Nelson
July 14, 2010 10:53 PM

I installed MSE on both my desktop and laptop, primarily because I was no longer able to download AVG on our slow dialup connection. I've been reasonably satisfied with it; however, it doesn't update itself reliably on either machine. We're using XP on both. We've made it a habit to start each session by doing an MSE update. I tried to get help from MS on this problem, but they say it's our computer's fault. AVG never had that problem,and I made sure it was totally uninstalled before installing MSE.

Lala
July 17, 2010 9:40 PM

Yes no anti virus can make you bullet prof.Once my computer get infected and nobody could even detect it. Going forward a step I wrote to AVG but even they were not aware of that virus.However it was only Trend-Micro detected that but could not be able to clean it as it was multiplying/copying very fast in different folders. But after one month I saw almost all the anti virus programes are able detect it.So all protection providers are more or less equally efficient

Don Conner
July 18, 2010 9:35 AM

I used LiveOneCare for three years until it stopped being supported by Microsoft. On July 2nd I removed LOC and installed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and did a full scan of desktop and two externals that took 14 hours. Nothing harmful was detected. Three days later I did a quick scan and discovered Win32/Alureon.H virus. MSE could not remove but did quarantine.
I called MSE for help and after approx one hour using a 3rd party wiper, the tech was able to remove, or at least make sure it could do no harm.
I have heard good comments from friends on Norton 360 at $79, but will stick with MSE until advised otherwise.

What do you think about having an additional spyware remover?

Glenn P.
July 25, 2010 4:40 AM

QUESTION: I have Windows XP Pro SP3 and am thinking of obtaining Microsoft Security Essentials.

One problem that I have heard of concerning this program is that it automatically sets Microsoft Updates to Automatic, whether the user wants this or not.

Now, I don't particularly mind this behavior, provided, of course, that I am allowed to reverse it after MSE is installed.

So, could someone please check and see whether, in fact, one is able, under Windows XP Pro SP3, and post-install of MSE, to de-select Microsoft Updates on Automatic? (Check it after a reboot in case it resets itself.) Or, does MSE somehow render this setting "permanent"?

Lee I
July 27, 2010 6:32 PM

I've had MSE for several months now on my XP SP3 computer. I have Windows updates set to notify only and I must OK download and installation. MSE hasn't affected this at all. I have a router firewall, so Windows firewall is also turned off. On my laptop, my networking software turns Windows firewall on when I'm on a network other than my home network.

Fe R. cooper
August 18, 2010 12:43 PM

I have toshiba laptop; CPU 707MHZ Windows XP Professional.why can't I ever install the microsoft Security Essential on PC?

John Rice
August 25, 2010 9:20 AM

I have MSE installed on my PC running XP with SP3. The other day I had a trojan infect me looking like an MSE warning. It was this Peak Proformance 2010 malware trojan. Yet MSE failed to detect or block it. I had to search around for a remendy using another PC to download first Rkill.com which failed then eXplorer.exe which worked. I could then download Malwarebytes which cleaned up the mess. While this was going on MSE just sat there as if nothing was amiss. I now have Malwarebytes as well as MSE on all my PC's

Shaun Zhang
September 17, 2010 2:11 PM

MSE can now detect the fake MSE warning, that warning is just a fake alert, it looks like MSE warning, but you will see it now.
Microsoft classified it as Rogue:Win32/Fakepav
You need to give Microsoft some time to update their website for this fake alert.
Here is the website about this threat from Microsoft
http://www.microsoft.com/security/portal/Threat/Encyclopedia/Entry.aspx?Name=Rogue%3AWin32%2FFakePAV&ThreatID=-2147329525

arun
February 9, 2011 5:10 AM

whether MSE is enough for the blocking of virus, or do i need any other 3rd party antivirus software to block the virus .

Please read the article you just commented on. It answers this question.
Leo
09-Feb-2011

Dave Trujillo
February 9, 2012 8:21 PM

I really like microsoft security essentials, but the problem I have is even though I have the virus scan settings enabled, they still come through my windows updates, but as an optional update. The definiton updates don't automatically download because of this. It's kind of cumbersome for sure.

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