Has Microsoft Security Essentials Improved?
Since MSE debuted in 2006, Microsoft had hyped it to the heavens as the first free antivirus protection built into Windows. Many users of Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 (and now Windows 10) were persuaded to rely upon MSE as their only real-time antivirus protection. But in 2013, I called MSE an "EPIC FAIL." So has it gotten any better since then?
MSE: Still the Worst?
In October, 2013, I wrote an article titled Microsoft Security Essentials: EPIC FAIL. At the time, my advice was this: "I can't say that MSE is worthless, but it's certainly not essential… with so many other excellent free alternatives, my advice is to avoid it or replace it."
Even though Microsoft touted MSE as a "free comprehensive security solution," they came out with a shocking and confusing admission that MSE was never intended to be a “category leader.” MSE, according to Microsoft, provides just a “baseline” that better products should aim to beat. And they do, by wide margins.
Independent tests comparing over two dozen antivirus products in 2013 consistently ranked MSE dead last in protection against zero-day exploits, the kind of attacks that can only be detected by analyzing the behavior of suspect software. MSE also ranked near the bottom in detecting well-known viruses, a comparatively easy task. Only in “usability” did MSE fair well; but “user-friendly software that doesn’t work well” seems like an oxymoron.
It's been two years since those reports. Has Microsoft Security Essentials (also known as Windows Defender in Windows 8 and higher) gotten any better?
MSE was replaced by an updated Windows Defender module in Windows 8, which carries on into Windows 10. Originally an anti-spyware program that did not address viruses, the Windows Defender name pre-dates MSE. The Windows 8/10 version of Defender tackles viruses and real-time protection against zero-day threats. Is it better than Microsoft Security Essentials? Alas, no. In fact, Defender is more or less MSE under a different name. The two programs even use the same virus signature databases.
What Do Independent Test Labs Say?
The June 2015 test results from AV-TEST show that MSE/Defender still ranks dead last among the 21 products compared. The difference in overall ratings is enormous, too.
Defender scored 90% in AV-TEST’s “protection against zero-day threats” category in May, 2015, and actually fell to 85% in June. The average for all tested products is 98%. For detection of known viruses – the simplest job for any antivirus program – Defender scored 89% in May and 95% in June. The average score for all products is 99%.
Another independent test lab, AV-Comparatives, gave MSE an overall rating of just 4.7 out of 18 points, the lowest score of 21 products tested. Multiple competitors scored over 14.0, including Avira Antivirus Pro, Bullguard Internet Security, eScan Internet Security, Panda Free Antivirus, and Quick Heal Total Security.
Microsoft’s Defender and MSE are not “baselines” of minimal adequacy in antimalware protection. They are, in my opinion, totally inadequate! Anyone relying upon either of these programs as their sole means of defense is making a mistake that could lead to big trouble.
And yet... Microsoft is STILL promoting Windows Defender as “all you need,” even in the new Windows 10. Here’s an example from a Windows 10 Technical Preview FAQ:
Q: What Anti-Virus should I install for Windows 10 Technical Preview?
A: You don't need to install any Anti-Virus program, because you already have one which is Windows Defender. It protects you against Virus, Worm, Trojan, Spyware, Adware and other malicious programs same as what Microsoft Security Essentials is doing in Windows Vista and Windows 7.
There Are Better Alternatives
In response to the disgraceful test scores described above, Microsoft argues that the tests don’t measure the overall security of Windows itself. Windows Defender should be tested in conjunction with the SmartScreen anti-phishing filter built into Internet Explorer, as well as other security features baked into Windows 10.
But what if you want to use another browser? What if you don’t want the weakest link in your Internet security to allow one out of seven zero-day threats into your machine?
Well, then I suggest you install one of the top-rated anti-malware suites and disable the superfluous and inadequate MSE (Win XP/Vista/7) or Defender (Win 8/10). I've written recently about the Best AntiVirus Software for 2015 and I also maintain a list of Free Anti-Virus Programs.
I've suggested for years that any of those freebies, plus occasional scans with the free version of MBAM will do a fine job of protecting you. What's in YOUR Internet security wallet? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 4 Aug 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Has Microsoft Security Essentials Improved? (Posted: 4 Aug 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved