Microsoft Security Essentials: EPIC FAIL
Microsoft launched their Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) antivirus software with great fanfare in 2009, touting it as a 'comprehensive security solution' for Windows. And publicly, they still do. But the head of Microsoft's Malware Protection Center is singing a different tune -- even recommending AGAINST relying on MSE. Here's what you need to know…
What's the Truth About MSE?
Over the past few years, I've written about Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), the free antivirus software for Windows. Most recently, in Will Microsoft Security Essentials Take Over the World? I noted that MSE was quickly moving to the top of the antivirus market share charts. But I also cautioned that it scored at or near the bottom of the pack in effectiveness tests.
According to Microsoft's own website, “a whole team” of security professionals at their Malware Protection Center is devoted to keeping the MSE product up to date and customers immune from malware. And for over a year, Microsoft has touted MSE as a significant feature of Windows 8, its pride and joy. For the first time, the Windows operating system had built-in antivirus protection.
My hope was that all this enthusiasm from the nice folks in Redmond would serve to make MSE a better product. But the most recent independent testing shows that MSE still performs worse than almost all of its competitors, and is the only one to fail their certification test. And now Microsoft is changing its tune about MSE, if not the lyrics.
Contrary to the advice and glowing praise on Microsoft's own websites, MSE is not and never was intended to be a category leader, says the company. As reported in PC PRO Magazine recently, Holly Stewart, senior program manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, told one independent lab whose test it flunked that the company is simply providing a “baseline” and MSE will "always rank at the bottom" of test scores. She further recommended that users employ additional third-party protection.
Stewart insists that MSE was always intended to provide “baseline protection” upon which third-party developers are expected to improve. Those third-party developers didn’t get the memo, apparently. When MSE debuted, they all cried “foul” at what they perceived as serious and unfair competition. Perhaps that’s because Microsoft touted MSE as such.
"We had an epiphany a few years ago, back in 2011," Ms. Stewart said. "We realized we had a greater calling and that was to protect all Microsoft customers," she said. "But you can’t do that with a monoculture and you can’t do that with a malware-catching ecosystem that is not robust and diverse." Ummm, what?
My translation: “After two years, we realized that we can’t compete with Norton, Kaspersky, Avast!, and a host of other security vendors who aim for something higher than mediocre.” It would have been nice if they told us that back in 2011, instead of continuing to promote MSE as a free "comprehensive security solution" for Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. (Microsoft Security Essentials is renamed as Windows Defender in Windows 8.)
Here's my epiphany: MSE is not even close to the best, and it appears that it's never going to get better. That's just not Microsoft's goal. I'm disappointed in Microsoft, and I feel that they have misled the public about MSE. Why continue to hype a mediocre product when there are plenty of GOOD, FREE antivirus programs out there? (See my related article Free Anti-Virus Programs for a list with download links.)
It's true, my good friend Leo Notenboom and I disagree about whether MSE should be used going forward. You can see us having a friendly discussion about this in the photo here. But I'll concede this: MSE test results show that it's probably "good enough" at detecting the most common malware currently circulating. Where it lacks is in protecting against zero-day malware attacks. MSE scored only 82% there, while AVG, Avast and Norton all scored at 98 or 99%.
But there's one more thing bothering me about this revelation from Microsoft. How can the chief of Microsoft's Malware Protection Center advise people to use MSE as a "first layer of protection" and recommend that it supplemented by an additional, third-party antivirus product? Especially when the Malware Protection Center's website advises otherwise? The Q&A page there says this:
Bottom line, I can't say that MSE is worthless, but it's certainly not essential. For those who have it installed, it's better than nothing, and it's free. But with so many other excellent free alternatives, my advice is to avoid it or replace it. If you missed the link above, see Free Anti-Virus Programs to find a replacement for MSE.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Oct 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Microsoft Security Essentials: EPIC FAIL (Posted: 17 Oct 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved