Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0 - 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:

    4.0 stars

    out of 110 votes

    • 5 star: 60
    • 4 star: 22
    • 3 star: 7
    • 2 star: 8
    • 1 star: 13
  • My rating:

    0 stars

    Write review

Results 1-10 of 110

  • 5.0 stars

    "Great software for free"

    April 23, 2012  |   By Yoshi363

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Simple: it is free, it isn't harsh on your computer's RAM, it can set restore points (optional feature), quarantine feature, history, no need to worry too much about definitions as Windows Update can handle the definition updates (you can manually check for them as well), you can also choose whether you want the program to check for definition updates before running a scheduled scan

    Cons

    not as powerful as a few select other competing software

    Summary

    There might have been some things I missed, but really, you get a free security software from a well-known, trusted corporation.

    I've been a user of this software for a long while, I have it installed on my Windows 7 desktop computer and Windows XP laptop, and there is a lot that I love about the software.

    while it is true that you don't get protection that is as powerful as some other security software, you can't complain when you have something free and works great

    Reply to this review Read reply (1)

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Excellent set and forget AV"

    April 20, 2012  |   By c0ded

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Fast light on resources ,no nag screens easy to use has won numerous awards awarded virus bulletin 100VB awarded ,virus bulletin 4 star awards cleans all virus thoroughly ,no false positives.
    Relaced this free AV with recently expired paid top rated paid antivirus and MSE detected 3 Java exploits it had missed or failed to clean .

    Cons

    You can only do one scan at a time unlike most other Av's where you can do multiple scans this is no big deal just pointing this out .

    Summary

    MSE have come up trumps with this one and it only can improve ,don't think i will buy antivirus software as long as this is doing it's job catching and cleaning malware viruses and trojans knowing it's not going to clean a perfect legit file having the loweest false postive detection of any AV both free and paid.

    Updated on Apr 21, 2012

    AV-Test GmbH did a thorough test of Microsoft Security Essentials, with almost 3200 viruses, Trojans and worms. All files were detected by the AV, even those ones that aren't yet detected and cleaned by other paid AV software. They also tested it for false positives, where an AV points out legitimate software as a virus, and even then MSE passed the test with flying colors. None of the clean files were marked as malicious by it.
    Its ability to detect malware and rootkits has also been praised by AV-Test and they've found no reason to complain so far. Although they want to test it against more sample just to be sure. With lightweight performance, and no nonsense design along with almost next to none useless prompts MSE has really put up a competition to the many popular and mostly useless when needed AV software that not only bug the user but fail to detect many viruses.

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  • 1.0 stars

    "this bad Protection"

    April 19, 2012  |   By Oneaboet

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    this very bad protector

    Cons

    60% false detection

    Summary

    canot block another Malware

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Wonderful, light antivirus!"

    April 18, 2012  |   By cbbailey9

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Great protection, lightweight, automatically updates. Can't beat free! Can do a quick scan in <1 min. No adventisements/popups. 64 bit support. Comes directly from Microsoft and works well with their firewall. Small and easy install. Doesn't come with a lot of junk like tons of other AVs do.

    Cons

    Could have a few more features. First time full scan was a bit slow but that's expected. May be an issue for some but not for me but you must have a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Vista

    Summary

    I recently just switched over to this from avast! I highly recommend this antivirus. I've tried Bitdefender, avast!, ESET, Webroot, AVG, Panda, Norton, etc.... but this one really seems to work best for me. If this doesn't tickle your peach I would recommend looking at avast!

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Simply and the best"

    April 18, 2012  |   By darknesss75

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Best antivirus ever
    no nag screen
    no pop-ups
    MSE +Windows Firewall = best security

    Cons

    Nothing. Is the best.

    Summary

    Unninstall Avast , Avg , Avira , and install the best security of 2012 => MICROSOFT SECURITY ESSENTIALS !!!!

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Better Than I Thought"

    April 17, 2012  |   By ElObomo

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Just works! No nag screens, no adverts, no constant downloads. Easy up-dates. Using it for over a month and no bad items have gotten through. It uses far fewer resources than I thought - so it lets you surf faster - faster than Avira, Avast, AVG. Pretty much a set-it-and-forget-it program.

    Cons

    Scans run a little slow.

    Summary

    All these so-called AV labs that post reviews of AV software keep writing claiming Microsoft Security Essentials sucks - but who owns them and is paying their bills? And they all post different results. I've found (to my surprise) MS Security Essentials keeps the bad guys out, is easy to use, doesn't bombard you with nag-screens and adverts, and speeds up surfing over the other free AV programs.

    Updated on Apr 20, 2012

    Even these so-called AV "Lab" reviews all showed MSE gave zero false positives. Say hello to your donkey for us.

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  • 5.0 stars

    "Great Software !"

    April 12, 2012  |   By Cold_Ember

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    lightweight, good scanning engine, fast and easy to update, clean looking

    Cons

    lack features

    Summary

    Microsoft wont let their product compromised, so its just good idea to make this great free piece of humble program to protect them from foolish enginners of malwares, thanks a lot microsoft, CNET and beloved seth rosenblatt

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  • 5.0 stars

    "I like it."

    April 12, 2012  |   By Marshall Staxx

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Simple installation, configuration, and operation. Seems to be as effective as anything else I've used.

    Cons

    Could use a little more documentation.

    Summary

    I'm generally one of Microsoft's tougher critics, but when they finally stepped up to the plate with an A/V, they did Security Essentials right.

    It's easier to install and configure than most, and requires no attention after that, so I like being able to set and forget it on family members' PCs. Formerly a user of Symantec, Avast, and AVG (in that order), Security Essentials is now what I would recommend. Have had it running on three PCs with no problems since shortly after it was introduced.

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  • 4.0 stars

    "Free and Fast"

    April 9, 2012  |   By moviegeek65

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    -Free
    -Uses little resources
    -Has quarantine and sets restore points

    Cons

    -Not as effective as Avast

    Summary

    I was using Avast but the newer versions have become bloated and it slows my PC when browsing, I know Avast is more thorough than MSE but I don't visit questionable websites and use torrent. MSE uses very little resources so you hardly notice it when browsing, it also scans your PC fast. Version 2.1 is better than the first version I tried back in 2009, it has quarantine and it scans faster.

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  • 5.0 stars

    "No frills top security."

    April 8, 2012  |   By Thered101

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.1.1116.0

    Pros

    Excellent I have used so many different Internet securities I don't know were to start,they have fancy add ons good graphics and so on but they all slow your Computer down and block and stop things working in general.
    This does not it is really good don't waste your time or your money download this and use this only its the Dogs bollocks !!!!!

    Cons

    Absolutely none whatsoever.

    Summary

    This is number one in my book

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Results 1-10 of 110

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