MalwareBytes Free vs Paid

Category: Security

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.

MalwareBytes - Free versus Premium version

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?

A few years back, the MalwareBytes product was commonly referred to as "MBAM," an acronym for "MalwareBytes Anti-Malware." After adding other forms of protection, the company shortened the name. Personally, I miss the "BAM!" in "MBAM" but life is change. :-)

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...

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Most recent comments on "MalwareBytes Free vs Paid"

(See all 37 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

14 Jun 2018

Malwarebytes (free) also flags Advanced System Care on my computers. The compete address of PUPs is indeed cut off, but I just use the double-ended arrow to extend that section of the Malwarebytes toolbar and I can see which are Advanced System Care and which are others. I then tell Malwarebytes to "Ignore Always" and have no problems. (At least until the next time Advanced System Care loads some new files. Then I do it again.)

Posted by:

14 Jun 2018

Like a couple of the posters above, I too purchased a lifetime license for MBAM a few years ago. When they went to a subscription model, they sent me a download to install, and had I not read the terms, I would have been suckered in. I screamed bloody murder because I was convinced they were trying to sneakily ram it down my throat. I had words with tech support, but they ultimately backed off and have honored my lifetime far.
But every time they come out with a new version, I wonder if this will be the time, even after reading their confusing TOS. Granted, they might not be as bad as some of the others with using underhanded tactics, but I'm wary now.
Still, I believe it's a good product to have in your arsenal.

Posted by:

14 Jun 2018

I've used MB premium for years and never had any kind of attack. But my real-time protection turned itself off quite often as note by responders above, and restoring it was not easy. Recently, I bought a new computer that came with McAfee. Within 2 weeks, I had two virus attacks! I'd like to install MB premium --will it conflict with McAfee?

Posted by:

Joe McManuis
14 Jun 2018

I use SUPERAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes as well as Avast- all free versions. The SUPERAntiSpyware only seems to pick up tracking cookies while Malwarebytes ignors the tracking and picks up PUPS- I have never had SUPER pick up PUPS, thus, I am wondering whether I should drop SUPER. AVAST Free is detecting suspect sites and I am happy with this program.

Posted by:

Bill K
14 Jun 2018

Last year, when I had trouble installing an HP Office Jet 4650, I came across an outfit called CTS Maintenance. They helped me and I signed up as a subscriber. don't recall the exact cost but, about $125/yr. when I have a problem, I call them and they fix it. Also, included is a monthly clean up on a date and time I select. It seems to be very thorough. Malware Bytes is one of their tools. It has been very reassuring to know that I have back up when trouble arises.

Posted by:

14 Jun 2018

Hi Bob and thanks for a great article. I have been using Malwarebytes for years in conjunction with Norton. Between these programs, the computer has been virus free. However there were instances where both programs missed some viruses but were eventually caught during whole system scans. I have the paid version and it has blocked bad websites, identified "PUP" programs but it did not pick up tracking cookies. Norton did however but these pesky cookies keep on coming back. To sum up, the Malwarebytes program performed well over the years and it is recommended. That said hope that they keep on improving the program!

Posted by:

Ken Dooley
14 Jun 2018

As usual, great newsletter. I use combination of bitdefender and malwarebytes free, they seem to do a great job. I do an occasional scan by windows defender, and it has yet to find anything, which seems to confirm the effectiveness of my combo.
Thank you for all your help over all these years.

Posted by:

Larry Covington
14 Jun 2018

I have used MBAM ever since it came out. I also run it along side of Norton Security. The only reason I use Norton is because I have used Norton ever since the good old DOS days.I like that MWBAM is easy to use. Set defaults and let it rip. I scheduled it to run every Saturday. On another note Bob, I really enjoy reading your articles. Keep up the good service you provide! You have saved me with your good advise from time to time. For example a good backup can save you hours compared to a reinstall of Windows and all of your programs plus fine tuning.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

I have used Malwarebytes for years and I have never (to my knowledge)had a malware issue on my Windows 7 machine. Interestingly, I, too have occasional pop-ups regarding real-time protection having been turned off. I just click the "turn on" button and keep using the machine while feeling a little uneasy.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

I, too, am a user of Malwarebytes (Paid) with no issues on my Windows 7 machines or the Windows 10 machine. I believe MBAW flags Advanced System Care as a PUP being there was lawsuit by MBAW against ASC for allegedly stealing propriety information from MBAW.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

I've used the paid version for a LONG time, buying several when it was not the subscription model but pay once for a lifetime license. To their credit, they honor the lifetime license and I've updated to the latest versions with the same license (though I've had to re-enter the key after several updates).

Like above users, mbam periodically grabs 25% of the CPU for unknown reasons, and I be had it lockup the computer that has many drives with many files. I just turn ransomware and exploit protections off on my file server and the problem doesn't occur. My other computers run with full protections. I like the program and install the free version on family and friends computers I support.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

I have used both the Free and Paid versions of Malwarebytes. I have been a believer of their product for a long time, since the beginning. I also have a Lifetime License for Malwarebytes, and figured out how to get my Lifetime License approval, after they went to a yearly subscription product.

Since the first of the this year, I started using Bitdefender Total Security 2018 and my Malwarebytes Premium program was stopped by Bitdefender. There was no reason given, just that it was stopped and disabled from running.

I can still get it to scan and don't see any results. Bitdefender is doing a great job of protecting me, my Hubby's computer and my Android phone. I also have Bitdefender on my Fire 10 HD Tablet, but it is only the Free version, since Bitdefender is not an Amazon App.

Damn, I do wish that Amazon would get up to snuff, on their apps. They could at least us Google Play or Google Web Store for the apps we want. However, I do love my tablet. I think the app issue will be solved in time, hopefully.

It does bother me that Bitdefender disables Malwarebytes, but Bitdefender is doing an awesome job with so little resources, that I am duly impressed. I do get emails about Bitdefender products, but not pop-ups thank the stars. I was really getting upset with Avast for all of the pop-ups I was getting about more products by Avast.

Heavens, I had purchased their paid version, what more did they want??? I guess I didn't purchased the biggest program. Well I settled that argument, I looked around and purchased Bitdefender Total Security for 3 years for 5 devices that I got so much cheaper than Avast was offering me. It still bothers me, that you can be a long standing customer of a product and still "newbies" will always get the better deal. It's the same with DirecTV, too. It simply pisses me off royally.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

We've been using MalwareBytes Paid for several years. Scans are quick, thankfully I've had so few items (other than those darn PUPs) to deal with that I can't even remember when any bad guy was found. The only annoying thing is that sometimes one of their protection features would uncheck itself, which would invariably be fixed by a reboot. However, one must occasionally check to see if rootkits are included in scans--for some reason there is a problem keeping it checked.

However, when all is said and done we have been about 90% pleased with MalwareBytes Premium. After my dreadful experience with Avira, I've decided to just use Windows Defender until, when and if I can decide on another anti-virus.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2018

I've had Malwarebytes premium for a number of years and have been mostly happy with it. On the advice of our tech guy at work, I use Windows 10 security and the two work well together.

I had the problem where various pieces turned themselves off. A couple of months ago, I upgraded to what was then a beta version. I haven't had a problem since.

I also changed the settings so that MB warns me about PUPS rather than just dealing with them.

Posted by:

16 Jun 2018

Tell ya what, used to use the above mentioned AV'a in the beginning, and Malwarebytes- tried both subscribed and free versions...all of them?...JUNK!... Malwarebytes free used to be a good part of a malware clean up protocol, but things have changed with that company. avast! is a complete joke, especially the free version. Since moving over to Kaspersky Internet Security (paid) 5 yrs. ago we've had ZERO issues.

Posted by:

16 Jun 2018

I too have the premium lifetime version of MB and have it set to run every day at 0700 (about the time I turn the computers on). This morning's scan took a tad over 19 minutes and that's for a complete scan-rootkits and all.
In addition I use the Windows Defender for my Win 10 Pro and the combination works trouble free.
About once a week I run Super Anti Spyware to get rid of all the cookie ads and about the same time run CCleaner to knock off the dust and CC also has very good program uninstall built in.
I can't remember the last virus I got, but it was at least 8 or 9 years ago (before MBAM had AV built in as part of their program)

Posted by:

17 Jun 2018

I have used Malwarebytes ever since you recommended it in one of your e-books or newsletters. It seems to work well. You have now put doubts in my mind. I hope you have brought your concerns to the developers of Malwarebytes so that they are attended to

Posted by:

Cameron C Cook
17 Jun 2018

I've used Malwarebytes free and AVG free for several years on my Mac computer with no problems. I'm happy.

Posted by:

18 Jun 2018

Mr. Rankin,
Thank you for this continued series on ‘security suites’.
The task appears to be rather ‘difficile’ to tackle.
“FACILE” from French, meaning EASY (Difficile = Difficult)
“FACILE” (Adjective)
1. Arrived at without due care or effort; lacking depth
2. Performing adroitly and without effort
3. Speaking readily, clearly, and effectively
I am from the camp that believes ‘security should not be so complex, time-consuming, costly and/or subscription-based’.
But then, MAYBE such a dream is not achievable in this day and age.
I have also come to realize that the tested effectiveness of consumer-grade ‘security suites’ is a fast-moving target.
Especially, in light of the fact that even an above average consumer will never know how effective their chosen ‘security suite’ unless they can setup multiple computing systems and do their own vis-à-vis comparison testing under controlled conditions before making statements such as “I use productX; paid $Y and I am malware free!”
Over a decade ago, I (=tail) was forced to raise my white flag and I surrendered my trust (=wag) to Microsoft WindowsOS (=dog).
So that I can state “I use Defender; paid $0, and (I think) I am malware free!”.
But this is NOT to say/mean that I ignore the use of alternative security provisions for protection (e.g. AcronisTrueImage, data encryption, etc.).

Posted by:

20 Sep 2018

A good read, with one error. Rob mentioned that Malwarebytes is the only other product that can be used in conjunction with other programs. Webroot is the only other one. It is a very good program, although I have used Bitdefender since day 1. I've never had an issue with them, but more important, is the fact that they have 24/7 phone and chat support. Not too many programs have this, and it's my number 1 priority in any product or service.

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