MalwareBytes Free vs Paid
Oh, MalwareBytes, how I hope you make it! I admit up front that I admire this security suite purely for its aesthetics and attitude towards customers. But the question remains: Can the Premium "always-on" version stop malware effectively? Let's take a look at the free and paid versions of the MalwareBytes internet security product...
Should You Buy MalwareBytes Premium?
MalwareBytes, founded in 2008, is by far the youngest of the security software companies I have reviewed so far. Avast and Norton emerged in 1991, while AVG appeared in 1993 and Bitdefender in 2001. Talk about a generation gap!
The elder companies seem to have lost their way, frankly. They have become what their idealistic shareware founders abhorred: greedy, tricky, bloated, complacent corporations preying upon people’s FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Their products seem to have as many upsell features as security features, perhaps more.
Avast has been getting on my nerves with its steadily increasing popups urging me to try this or that feature which is only available by “upgrading,” which means “spending more money.” AVG exposed its trusting customers to hackers in order to earn a few pennies with a fatally flawed toolbar. Norton shrieks at its customers with new products on nearly every interaction with it, and will not let you delete your My Norton account; it’s like the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme!
Bitdefender, founded eight years after the youngest elder developer, AVG, has a lot less bloat and upsell obnoxiousness. Which brings me to MalwareBytes, the youngest of these five security suites by seven years, and the one with the best manners.
First, the difference between the free and paid versions is simple. You get to try MalwareBytes Premium free of charge for 14 days; after that, the proactive protection (sometimes called "real-time" or "always on" protection) becomes merely an on-demand scanner or post-infection cleanup tool that you run whenever you choose.
There is not a lot of marketing hype in MalwareBytes Premium, the company’s subscription product for Windows home users. “Four layers of malware-crushing tech. Smarter detection. Specialized ransomware protection. It's the security you've been looking for.” That pretty much sums it up!
The four layers are: “anti-malware, anti-ransomware, anti-exploit, and malicious website protection.” These are the same layers that other suites lay on, but MalwareBytes describes them in plain English. I love it!
The installation of MalwareBytes is equally crisp and succinct, over in a matter of seconds. That’s because the installation routine is not deliberately paused to display page after page of ads touting features you are hoping to try soon and upgrades in which you have little or no interest. Also, there are no “gotcha” pages on which unwary users install a third-party program when mindlessly clicking “OK.”
MalwareBytes Scanning: Taking Shortcuts?
The no-nonsense theme continues when MalwareBytes Premium is run. A spartan dashboard makes it easy to see what protections are enabled and what needs your attention. A nice big, bright green arrowhead points down at the “Scan Now” button to make sure you do an initial scan.
MalwareBytes blazes through a full scan in less than five minutes, scouring RAM, startup files, the registry, and the full file system. Considering that the average security suite’s full scan takes around 45 minutes, one must wonder how well MalwareBytes detects infections.
It turns out that much of the time other security suites spend on full scans is wasted on ineffectual signature-based scanning. Less than five percent of today’s malware programs are caught by signature scans, according to MalwareBytes. Many antivirus signature databases are full of signatures of viruses that have not been seen in the wild in years; scanning for them is just a waste of time.
MalwareBytes drops from its signatures database signatures of viruses that have not been reported via users’ logs in six months or more, leaving a smaller set of signatures against which a file must be compared. That’s why MalwareBytes’ full scan takes much less time. But that may seem to be a risky bit of corner-cutting to traditionalists.
What Do the Independent Test Reports Indicate?
If lab test scores are any indication of a security suite’s worth, MalwareBytes is in trouble. But according to the MalwareBytes developers, labs like AV-TEST and AV-Comparatives do not test the kinds of advanced malware-fighting technologies that MalwareBytes employs. The company says it could bloat up Malwarebytes with features that do well on lab tests, but would rather focus on protecting customers as efficiently as possible.
That seems to be a rather facile explanation for MalwareBytes’ sparse and lackluster appearances among lab-tested security products. Indeed, in an April, 2017, AV Comparatives reports, MalwareBytes scored lower than Microsoft Security Essentials in three tests of effectiveness against 120 new, more evasive polymorphic ransomware, 1000 “regular” ransomware, and 4000 other malware samples. While MalwareBytes scores were all solidly above 90%, at least eight other programs aced the test, getting 100% of all three types of malware.
The developers of MalwareBytes do not submit their product to the AV Comparatives or AV-Test test tabs, which is why they do not appear in any more recent reports on either of those sites. The report mentioned above was commissioned by PC-Matic, another internet security vendor, who choose the products to be tested.
So, as much as I like MalwareBytes and want to support it, I can’t justify buying it until its effectiveness improves and can be demonstrated by independent test labs.
What About the Free Version?
But the free version has its shortcomings, too. During a scan, it flags Advanced System Care, a perfectly legitimate program, as a PUP: potentially unwanted program. It should be simple to tell MalwareBytes to ignore the 17 flagged files in future scans, but it is not.
Like every other security suite, MalwareBytes displays flagged files in a format that cuts off the last part of the path to the flagged file. In order to see exactly what is flagged, one must generate a report in a text file and open it with WordPad or some other external text editor. Then read the full path name, decide what to do, and switch back to MalwareBytes to provide further instructions. Ugh! Having guessed that all 17 of my flagged files belong to Advanced System Care, I simply left all files checked and clicked “Next.” MalwareBytes then gave me the option to ignore or delete flagged files; I chose “ignore.”
The free version of MalwareBytes does not provide real-time protection against malware, malicious sites, or anything else. It relies on you to initiate a scan, detects existing malware and quarantines it pending your review and decision to keep or delete it.
My opinion of MalwareBytes Free hasn't changed much in the past 10 years. It's a great tool to have as a "second look" when you suspect a malware problem, and in some cases I've seen it catch things that other anti-malware tools missed.
I do use the Premium version on a computer in my home that's used by other family members. I made that decision partly to support a company that I admire, and partly to add a second layer of defense there. It's noteworthy that the paid version of MalwareBytes has always "played nice" with other real-time security tools. It's the only exception to my oft-repeated advice that only ONE real-time anti-virus tool should be active.
Have you tried MalwareBytes? Do you use the free or paid version? Alone or with some other internet security product? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Jun 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- MalwareBytes Free vs Paid (Posted: 14 Jun 2018)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved