Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1 - 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 - Protect your PC securely from viruses, malware, and spyware - Download Video Previews:

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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:

    3.0 stars

    out of 20 votes

    • 5 star: 6
    • 4 star: 2
    • 3 star: 2
    • 2 star: 5
    • 1 star: 5
  • My rating:

    0 stars

    Write review

Results 1-10 of 20

  • 1.0 stars

    "worst software I have ever installed"

    February 9, 2013  |   By dream2xs

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    unable to tell

    Cons

    unable to connect to internet since installing

    Summary

    Makes a brick of your PC

    Updated on Feb 9, 2013

    after uninstalling, I still cant connect to the internet.

    Reply to this review Read reply (1)

    Was this review helpful? (1) (4)

  • 5.0 stars

    "The VERY Best Anti-Malware You Can Get!"

    January 19, 2013  |   By Word-Man-Chuck

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    Lets your computer run at its Fastest Speed while providing excellent protection.

    Cons

    None! -- While there are other Anti-Malware Programs that offer Slightly better protection, they do so at the high cost of Slowing Down your computer.

    Summary

    First off, let me note that I have spent FAR too many hours testing all the best Anti-Malware alternatives--particular every one that CLAIMS it does not slow your computer. Therefore, I have tested avast!, Webroot, F-Secure, & ESET. The Results? Every one had a Definite Negative Impact on System Speed. The VERY best results were from Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). And really, it's no wonder: Every other antivirus product is designed First of All to stop system infections while also keeping an eye on performance. Microsoft chose a different path: Provide excellent protection but DO NOT slow down computer performance!

    Secondly, if you are Relying on your antivirus software to protect your computer, you are a target for DISASTER--because NO antivirus provides perfect protection & the bad guys only need to succeed ONCE to wreak havoc on your machine. Instead, protect yourself with 2 simple actions: 1. Prepare an emergency boot disk (or thumb drive, etc.) so you can boot your machine in any emergency; and 2. Do a REGULAR System Backup. Your Anti-Malware Software is secondary! If your machine is compromised by malware, an anti-virus Might restore your computer. But a System Restore from Backup returns your system back to a 100% healthy state.

    Updated on Jan 20, 2013

    Comparing Antivirus Products:
    While Antivirus Programs Constantly Improves, the Certifiers are becoming Excessively Demanding! So much so, they attempt to force Most antivirus vendors Into Your world Every Time your PC does a File-Read or Write! This Constant Analysis of every File-Write Slows your Computer ..while squeezing out a tiny bit bit more Security. The Certifiers do this NOT in Your Interest! -- but rather because they CAN! --If you don't play by THEIR rules, they Black-Mark the vendor's record, & the tech-press sheepishly play along. In Contrast, Microsoft, the OS author, bravely refused to Cow to certifier demands; & instead strives to keep your computer safe while seeking Max-Speed for your PC & Software.

    In my view, if you are wise:: Run a Great (not "Perfect") Antivirus; Do Regular Scans (E.g.: MBAM); & Do Regular System Backups, I believe you are VERY well-served with Microsoft Security Essentials. I view it as the Best Balance of Protection & Performance.

    Reply to this review Read replies (3)

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  • 1.0 stars

    "Bad Antivirus. Stay away from this AV."

    January 18, 2013  |   By neilgonzales10

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    Fastest on the market.

    Cons

    It is a weak Antivirus. Fail to pass on av-test, av comparatives and other testing antivirus product.

    Summary

    Please STAY AWAY from this Antivirus. It can be a potentially unwanted program (PUP) that harm your computer and fail to protect your computer on zero-day attack. It can also lead to malware and turns off your Windows Defender. I'm using this antivirus last 2011 and cannot protect my computer. I'm using Avast Free Antivirus last year and now and its better than this antivirus. Please be careful when investigating an antivirus features. Before installing an antivirus, check your old antivirus uninstalled. It can cause problems of having a two or more antivirus on your computer. Even your antivirus is compatible with antivirus it can cause problems also.

    Reply to this review Read reply (1)

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  • 1.0 stars

    "What is Microsoft Security Essentials Good For?"

    January 16, 2013  |   By mark2870

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    Very easy to install and use.
    Does not "shout" at you all the time to upgrade or update.
    Is virtually transparent to the user.
    Does not seem to slow down the computer noticeably.
    Claims to provide fundamental protection of your computer.

    Cons

    I have recommended Microsoft Security Essentials as a free anti-virus/antispyware "solution" for several years. Nearly every computer eventually comes back to me loaded with viruses and spyware, and not working. I have tried Microsoft Security Essentials on my own computers, and made sure it was kept updated with current engine and signatures, and I too have had terrible infestations of viruses, tojan horses, and spyware. And, Mircrosoft Security Essentials is rarely able to clean up any of this crap. I have difficulty seeing the benefits of using this product.

    Summary

    Although Microsoft Security Essentials has great usability characteristics, I have not found it to be effective in preventing virus and spyware infestations, or cleaning up the infestations. I wish I could be more positive, but as far as I am concerned, the product is useless.

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  • 3.0 stars

    "This software has very bad protection for malware!"

    January 6, 2013  |   By ArjenZ

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    Free, Easy to work with

    Cons

    Bad protection against spyware, read about it on http://www.windowssecurityessentials.com

    Summary

    Read all about this software on the website mentioned at the cons before using it!

    Reply to this review Read reply (1)

    Was this review helpful? (3) (2)

  • 2.0 stars

    "There is much better available. Don't waste your time."

    January 5, 2013  |   By MortanoTech

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    -Good detection rates.
    -Free.
    -Designed specially by Microsoft

    Cons

    -resource consuming despite how small it seems to the eye.
    -Not brilliant at removing threats.
    -Can be time consuming.
    -Sometimes long scanning time.

    Summary

    I wouldn't recommend this unless your obsessed with Microsoft products. there are plenty of other products better than this for preventing and removing threats that have a much lighter touch on your computer resources.
    This, in my opinion, is a poor excuse for an Anti-Virus software. However, it is decent. If this is what your looking for, give it a try. You might just prove me wrong.

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  • 5.0 stars

    "The #1 FREE ANTIVIRUS!!!"

    December 11, 2012  |   By AntivirusITPRO

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    1.easy interface
    2.uses less cpu and ram
    3.stable
    4.meant for windows designed by the creator of windows-Microsoft!
    5.gud detection & FAST scanning speeds.
    6.very simple for ordinary users.
    7.automatic update
    8.many more....BUT #1 PROs>>> FREE!!!

    Cons

    None so far

    Summary

    Beats everything else hands down!and its FREE

    Reply to this review Read reply (1)

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  • 2.0 stars

    "Very poor in detection rates for an AV"

    November 23, 2012  |   By ComputerLuvr

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    None at the moment

    Cons

    Poor scanning. Does not cleanly uninstall. Remnants remain in registry keys which you have to manually remove. Not good if you're a novice PC user.

    Summary

    Would not recommend this product for an AV for your computer. For a free AV I'd recommend Avast, AVG and Kingsoft AV 2012. Paid product would be Kaspersky, Avast, AVG. Have tested this program on ten computers. I'm an IT professional and test AV software.

    Updated on Nov 23, 2012

    Avast has fixed that issue. I also would recommend Avira and AVG. Avast 7 is working beautifully for me, not only on my home PC, but, also on ten computers which I use to test AV software.

    Reply to this review Read reply (1)

    Was this review helpful? (4) (3)

  • 1.0 stars

    "What the hay?!"

    November 20, 2012  |   By HASARAS

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    You can allow cleaned items.

    Cons

    It registers normal CPU functions, such as the keyboard and mouse pad, as Trojan programs.

    Reply to this review

    Was this review helpful? (3) (4)

  • 5.0 stars

    "Secure and easy to use."

    November 19, 2012  |   By teri1607

    Version: Microsoft Security Essentials 4.1

    Pros

    Safe: Finds and cleans all the viruses and troyans that have been bugging me lately.
    Easy to use: the statement set-it-and-forget-it says it all.

    Cons

    It is so easy to use, that if you are used to the old style AV programs, it feels too good to be true. Once in a while I find myself double checking its performance just to make sure it is still there and doing its job! (This is Pro, to be honest)

    Summary

    Get it, insall it, and relax doing your work on a computer with no worries.

    Reply to this review

    Was this review helpful? (4) (2)

Results 1-10 of 20

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