Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657 - Free download and software reviews - CNET Download.com

Microsoft Security Essentials

CNET Editors' review

The bottom line: Microsoft Security Essentials 2 will protect you, and it will generally do it well. However, its impact on system performance could be improved, and it's still a bit light in the tool belt.

Review:
Now in its second iteration, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) debuted as the lightweight, cloud-based successor to the paid security suite Live OneCare in 2009. Version 2 introduces deeper hooks into Internet Explorer and the default firewall in Vista and Windows 7. Security Essentials has begun to mature, although it's still rough at the edges.

Installation
It takes very little effort to get going with MSE. Microsoft politely does not opt you in to the program's customer experience improvement program; you must choose to opt in or stay out of it before you can finish the installation. It also lets you choose whether to run the Windows Defender firewall, and whether to run a scan once installation is complete, although both of those are opt-out.

Overall, the installation time ran around 4 minutes on our test computer. That's not as blazing fast as some of the paid suites, which can complete installation in less than 60 seconds, but it is respectable for a free program.

Interface
MSE 2's interface adopts a different color scheme than the previous version, going for various shades of gray to replace the vibrant blue and white look. It doesn't pop as much, but it also looks far less like a Windows XP relic.

For those unfamiliar with the design, MSE has four tabs across the top. The Home tab contains your security status and scan options, and you can run a Quick Scan, Full Scan, or Custom Scan. A link at the bottom of the pane lets you change the scheduled scan.

The second version of Microsoft Security Essentials changes its plumage to gray, and adds better heuristic detections and deeper hooks into the Windows firewall.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Update is where you manually get new virus definition files and program upgrades, History logs only detected threats, and Settings is where you go for advanced tweaking. The program looks simple, but don't be deceived: there are quite a few advanced options in Settings--just not as many as many competitors offer. Security Essentials uses labels imported from OneCare: green for all good, yellow for warning, and red for an at-risk situation.

Features and support
Under the clean and uncluttered interface, Security Essentials wraps up antivirus and antispyware engines, rootkit protection, and real-time detection courtesy of Microsoft SpyNet, the unfortunately named cloud-based service that anonymously compares file behavior across computers running various Microsoft operating systems.

SpyNet was introduced in Windows Vista and extended to Windows 7, but Microsoft Security Essentials is the only way to access the network in Windows XP. Unlike other security vendors that allow customers to take advantage of the benefits of their behavioral detection engines while opting out of submitting information, there's no way to do that with SpyNet.

Well, it's mostly anonymous. You can choose between two SpyNet memberships. The basic membership submits to Microsoft the detected software's origins, your response to it, and whether that action was successful, and the advanced membership submits all that plus the location on your hard drive of the software in question, how it operates, and how it has affected your computer. Both basic and advanced versions warn users that personal data might be "accidentally" sent to Microsoft, although they promise to neither identify nor contact you. New in version 2 is the option to opt out of contributing to SpyNet while still receiving the benefits of crowd-sourced security.

When you install MSE 2, it will automatically run a scan unless you opt out. Note that it will not consider your computer secure until that first quick scan has completed.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Microsoft Security Essentials 2 uses both definition-file and real-time defenses against viruses and spyware, and also offers rootkit protection. Along with the quick scan and the full scan, there's a Custom scan option that lets users select specific folders or drives to scan. It doesn't allow for customizing the type of scan used. For example, you're not going to be able to choose to scan only for rootkits or heuristics, as you can with other security programs. However, you can set USB keys and other external devices to automatically get scanned. The program installs a context-menu option for on-the-fly scanning in Windows Explorer, too.

The Update pane manages the definition file updates, with a large action button, and History provides access to a spreadsheet-style list of All detection items, your Quarantine, and items you've Allowed to run. Although it's a basic layout, this no-frills approach to security has proven appealing to people who are overwhelmed by more detailed security choices.

New in version 2 is integration with Internet Explorer so that downloads get scanned, and Windows firewall hooks so that your personal security net is tighter. For Windows 7 and Vista users, the Windows Filtering Platform that those two operating systems come with gets a boost from a new network inspection feature.

The Settings window allows you to further customize the program by scheduling scans, toggling default actions to take against threats, adjusting real-time protection settings, creating whitelists of excluded files, file types, and processes, and choosing from the aforementioned SpyNet options. There's also an Advanced option that is still fairly basic: here you can set Security Essentials to scan archives and removable drives, create a system restore point, and expand user rights to allow all users to view the History tab.

A nice feature in the scheduler forces MSE 2 to be respectful of your computer's processor usage.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Security Essentials comes preconfigured to run a scan weekly at 2 a.m., when Microsoft thinks your system is likely to be idle. New malware signatures are downloaded once per day by default, although you can manually instigate a definition file update through the update tab. Attachments and downloaded files will be automatically scanned by Security Essentials.

Help is only available in the form of the standard offline Help manual that comes with all Microsoft programs. There's nothing fancy here.

MSE abandons the additional heft of a firewall, performance tuning, and backup and restore options to focus on core security. However, the new version does include a system restore option, to back up your computer before you remove any detected malware. Most of the changes in MSE 2 are under the hood, but it's still a worthwhile program in terms of features, especially on lower-powered Netbooks.

Performance
Microsoft Security Essentials occupies a slightly different space than the rest of the security programs because it's the only one published by Microsoft, and, remarkably to some, it doesn't suck. Benchmarks by independent third-party efficacy testers and CNET Labs discovered that the program has uneven performance. (Read more on how CNET Labs benchmarks security software.)

Security program Boot time Shutdown time Scan time MS Office performance iTunes decoding Media multitasking Cinebench
Unprotected system 42.5 11.28 n/a 917 180 780 4,795
Microsoft Security Essentials 2 54 18 1,560 1,038 201 800 4,790

*All tests measured in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better.

AV-Test.org certified MSE 1 during one test this year, and then refused to certify it during a test several months later. When tested on Windows 7 in the second quarter of 2010, MSE 1 earned certification with a 15 out of 18 score. It achieved 4 out of 6 in the Protection category, 4.5 out of 6 in Repair, and 5.5 out of 6 in Usability, where the minimum required for certification was 12. However, when tested on Windows XP in the third quarter of 2010, AV-Test.org did not pass MSE 1. The program earned 3 out of 6 in both Protection and Repair, and 5.5 out of 6 in Usability. Given the more advanced native security in Windows Vista and Windows 7, this could indicate that Microsoft's own security program is unsuitable for its older operating systems.

On the other hand, AV-Comparatives.org awarded MSE 1 an Advanced+ certification in November 2010 for its retrospective/proactive test, finding the program to have very few false positives.

Those results don't come cheaply, as far as system performance is concerned. CNET Labs' benchmarks put MSE 2 at the far slower end of the scale, with a bigger impact on system performance in general than most other security options. System start-up was 11.5 seconds slower than on an unprotected PC, and system shutdown was more than 6 seconds slower whereas most suites affected the system by 2 to 4 seconds.

MSE 2's impact on the MS Office, iTunes decoding, media multitasking, and Cinebench tests was generally unimpressive. The program did very well in the Cinebench test, but in others its results were more middle-of-the-road.

Virus scan times were also slow compared with the competition. MSE 2 took 26 minutes to finish a full scan, and nearly 2 hours on a real-world computer. The 2-hour time is slow, although not the slowest out there. The first quick scan performed at installation took 4 minutes, which is a competitive time for that type of scan.

Conclusion
Security Essentials is basically a good set-it-and-forget-it security program, but if you want more options and better results from a lightweight security option, Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.3 is the safer bet.

Microsoft Security Essentials beta:

Publisher's Description

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All User Reviews
  • All versions:

    4.0 stars

    out of 655 votes

    • 5 star: 370
    • 4 star: 120
    • 3 star: 42
    • 2 star: 47
    • 1 star: 76
  • Current version:

    3.9 stars

    out of 184 votes

    • 5 star: 88
    • 4 star: 49
    • 3 star: 12
    • 2 star: 16
    • 1 star: 19
  • My rating:

    0 stars

    Write review

Results 1-10 of 184

  • 5.0 stars

    "Stable and easy to use.."

    October 24, 2012  |   By Some_John

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Never failed me, Stable, easy to use, always there when other security-software fails or slowing my pc / connection down.

    Cons

    A little bit to simple sometimes and doesnt care about tracking cookies at all.

    Summary

    Still never crashed or dissapointed me thru the years.. Like democracy; Might not be perfect - but still the best option so far.. (by far?)

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  • 4.0 stars

    "Works well, non-intrusive"

    July 23, 2011  |   By jbowne

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Works well, does not require a lot of attention, free

    Cons

    Can be very difficult to re-install after doing a Windows XP repair.

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  • 1.0 stars

    "BSOD? Really?!"

    July 23, 2011  |   By Afroman89

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    None......

    Cons

    I don't know...

    Summary

    So I installed this. Restarted my computer... bam. BSOD. Thought it was something else. Went into safe mode removed almost every driver that was outside stuff. Reinstalled my video driver. Went on normal mode 5 minutes later... boom. Again. BSOD. Safe Mode removed MSE went back to Normal Mode everything was fine. Tried installing it again and restarting it same as before only with out any of my special drivers (my gamer keyboard mouse webcam etc) it crashes my computer again. This made me laugh hard. A Microsoft constructed program that gives a PC the BSOD. GOOD JOB MICROSOFT. I'd provide a video but I lack good quality camcorder but I did take a picture with my phone... it's pretty bad though.

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Easy to download and install. Works flawlessly"

    July 21, 2011  |   By gvo

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Scan feature is quick.Doesn't slow down my computer like Mcafee.

    Cons

    None at this time

    Summary

    Great program so far

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  • 4.0 stars

    "Recommended by Geek Squad as best for use with OS 7"

    July 20, 2011  |   By KaDeBo

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    While I have had a couple of glitches with updating with previous MSE versions, the system usually updates flawlessly with this newest version.

    Cons

    None noted.

    Summary

    Can only give it a four because I have no experience with other home-use systems. To give it a five without a comparison seems unwise. However, it does perform as advertised, and I believe the recommendation of the Geek Squad was well-founded.

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  • 5.0 stars

    "great product"

    July 19, 2011  |   By aaron1056

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Does not slow down computer and destroys viruses.

    Cons

    nothing at all

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  • 5.0 stars

    "NOT A RESOURCE HOG"

    July 16, 2011  |   By andyseaview

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Not a resource hog, does not slow down my laptop at all while its protecting it in real time, even when running a scan my laptop still performs great, so far it seems to be protecting my system very well, i have had no problems with viruses yet.

    Cons

    I have only had MSE installed on my laptop for two months so i cant really tell yet if it is gonna be my anti virus program of choice

    Summary

    Not a resource hog, so far after two months i have had no viruses, time will tell

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Love it. Very powerful. Gets the job done."

    July 14, 2011  |   By leaktester_777

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Free, powerful, faster guard response, faster cleaning time, detects all different breeds of malware, fast and easy install, no restart.

    Cons

    None to speak of.

    Summary

    If you've been searching the internet looking for a good free antivirus, you just found one. It removes viruses, spyware, rogues, adware, keyloggers, rootkits, and lots of other malware. I love this software, and have it on my own computer.

    Updated on Jul 14, 2011

    I forgot to mention that it has a very simple interface, and is very user friendly. (Unlike COMODO)

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Excellent software."

    July 9, 2011  |   By natakuc4

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Free for home use.
    Made by Microsoft.
    Does not interfere with the OS which other security suites such McAfee do from time to time.
    Effective security.
    Fast scans.
    Quite lightweight on system resources.
    XP 32 bit, Vista/7 32 bit/64 bit compatible.

    Cons

    Integrates with Windows Firewall. Therefore the two Microsoft products complement each other.
    In XP the firewall is relatively weak. In 7 and Vista the firewall has undergone significant enhancements. If using XP get a decent firewall.

    Summary

    As mentioned for Windows XP use in conjunction to a stronger firewall for 7 and Vista the firewall is okay but you may want to use a slightly stronger one. I recommend Windows 7 Firewall Control (there is a free version of it for XP and Vista also). http://download.cnet.com/Windows-7-Firewall-Control/3000-10435_4-10618117.html

    I have used Microsoft Security Essentials in a range of different hardware.
    A 8 year old IBM machine with 512 MB of RAM, P4 processor and Windows XP (need it as has special software and PCI cards on it). McAfee crippled it beyond feasible use. With security essentials it ran fine.
    I have on the other end of the spectrum a brand new Dell XPS 8300 Windows 7 64 bit, 12.0 GB of RAM, i7-2600 CPU and 1.0 GB graphics card,naturally ran fine on that.

    In conjunction to Windows 7 Firewall Control this leads to a pretty strong, stable configuration. Finally a periodic scan with the Free version of Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware is also recommended. I use these 3 products together and have never had any my machines brought to its knees. Note for sufficiently powerful machines (>3 GB RAM, > 1.8 GHz Dual Core CPU) I recommend getting the pro version of Malwarebytes' which offers realtime protection and using this in conjunction with security essentials. I have never experienced any conflict in doing so.

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  • 1.0 stars

    "Useless no good."

    July 8, 2011  |   By shayne255

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0.657

    Pros

    Its ok but not alright to me.

    Cons

    The con is that I cant install this antivirus.I used to use it then I uninstalled it just to try out Avast on my computer when I didn't like avast and the way it was speed wise I uninstalled it and installed MSE again but I couldn't install MSE on xp

    Summary

    I don't know what happened to this antivirus when I tried to re-install it and it just kept coming up as a error message and wont install into my dell computer. So I am using panda now is anybody facing this problem or am I facing a problem that Microsoft security essentials did not detect a malware attack or something.

    Updated on Jul 8, 2011

    oh ok thanks for telling me

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Results 1-10 of 184

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