Microsoft's latest free anti-malware offering

Question

Is Microsoft’s new anti-virus tool good enough to get rid of the protection software that I am paying for?

- Paul

Answer

This question was answered on October 2, 2009. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The need for good protection software against the thousands of malicious software attacks (a.k.a malware) is critical, especially since the level and cleverness of the attacks is on the rise.

No matter what you install for protection software, your behavior will have the greatest impact on whether you get exposed or infected by many of today’s scams and fake alerts

In fact, the more active you are on the Internet, the more important it is to have higher levels of malware protection (are you parents with ‘screenagers’ paying attention?)

Fake security alerts are one of the most common ways to fool users into allowing malware to be installed on their computers and it’s natural to assume that only novice computer users fall for these types of attacks, but the data suggests something quite different.

A recent survey of a wide range of computer users by Webroot found some surprising key findings:

• Advanced users clicked on suspicious messages at a greater rate than less experienced users

• 20 percent of respondents strongly trust the first page of search results – a common target for fraudulent links

• Nearly one fifth reported varying levels of financial or data loss following infection

• Over half experienced infections consistent with those of fake alert-related malware

The sophistication of your protection software is critically important no matter how seasoned you are, because the authors of malware are constantly figuring out ways to get around protection software, especially those that look for specific lines of code (signature based detection).

Microsoft’s latest attempt to provide protection is called Microsoft Security Essentials (ver 1.0) and it replaces their last attempt called Windows Live OneCare.

While Microsoft’s efforts to provide free protection is noble and worthy of our recognition, it isn’t quite getting the stellar reviews in its first iteration Let’s face it, their track record for this type of software isn’t the greatest.

PCMag.com gave it a score of 3 out of 5 and called it an average malware removal tool and a one-dimensional malware blocker.

While the interface is clean and simple to understand, the specific tests that both PCMag.com and independent testing lab AV-Test.org conducted when it came to detection and removal was less than stellar.

It seems to be on par with other free offerings from companies like AVG and Avast but has the same hole in the protection provided by all the free options: detecting malware based on behavior instead of a signature (I wrote in detail about this in my column on Free vs Pay Anti-virus - http://bit.ly/10PlWV) .

At the end of the day, MSE 1.0 is certainly much better than no protection at all and if you are going to opt for free anti-virus, it seems to be as good of a choice as any of the others.

Keep in mind, this is a new technical approach by Microsoft and it is only version 1.0, so much can change or improvements could make it substantially better.

It is a quick download and installation process and I have not seen the slow down effect that many ‘Internet protection suites’ (we refer to them as ‘bloatware’) can produce.

I have been working with anti-virus programs for almost 20 years and have seen the rise and fall of many programs in this sector as they release new versions No matter how good or bad a product is today, it can become better or worse with the next release.

For instance, many years ago, I would have recommended against installing Webroot’s protection software and today I highly recommend it as a solid pay solution because they listened to feedback and made the necessary improvements.

The lesson here is that the protection software world is a moving target that is in a constant state of flux If you want someone to keep you up-to-speed on the changing landscape, keep reading this column!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on October 2, 2009