The Best in Free Antivirus Protection – MSE


I have reported this many times on this fine tech blog and to anyone who will listen. There is absolutely no reason for consumers to pay for good antivirus protection. There ane many excellent solutions out there, completely free of charge. My favorite of these is “Microsoft’s Security Essentials“. In the two years since its 2009 launch, the free malware protection tool Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) has become the world’s second most popular security package and has become my “go to” free security solution available today.

Available for Windows XP (Service Pack 2 and higher), Windows Vista and Windows 7, Microsoft Security Essentials is part of the Genuine Windows programme, and can only be used on consumer PCs.

Small businesses do have an exemption, and can run it on up to 10 machines; any more than that and you need to use Microsoft’s Forefront Endpoint Protection tools. It’s a small download, the latest version clocking in at just over 10MB.

Microsoft has done its best to keep MSE unobtrusive. There’s no obvious slowdown when it runs, and all you see is a tiny task bar icon that shows whether your PC is protected or not. Right-click to launch a settings tool and to run scans – with a choice of quick, full or custom. Installation is quick and easy, with MSE replacing Windows’ built-in anti-spyware Microsoft Windows Defender. Once installed it downloads an updated set of malware definitions from Microsoft’s update servers and scans your PC, before starting up real-time protection.

That first scan is relatively quick, and should take less than five or ten minutes on most computers . A small icon in the task bar is the only sign that MSE is installed and running, and it changes colour depending on the risk to your PC.

Green is, of course, good and yellow means that it’s time to run a scan. I don’t really want to tell you want red means but I’m sure you have an idea.

MSE will automatically run a quick scan once a week, although I would recommend changing the default 2am on Sunday to a time when your PC is likely to be turned on, unless of course if you leave you PC on, all the time. Which si actually what I reccomend at this point.

Other tools built into MSE let you tune it to exclude specific files and locations from scanning, as well as specific file types and even specific processes. You’re better off not changing these settings, since it’s impossible to predict how malware may disguise itself or what zero-day attacks they might use. A custom scan will check specific files, folders, or drives, while a full scan will check everything on your PC. i would suggest sticking with quick scans for everyday operation, which look for common malware and check system files.

The advanced options in MSE’s Settings tab enable you to include removable drives in scans, to protect flash drives as well as your system disks. You can turn off archive scanning (although I would recommend leaving it on, since it’s able to detect malware wrapped in several layers of zip compression). Other options enable you to set system restore points automatically before making system changes, including deleting, running or quarantining detected malware.

You’re also able to set how long MSE will keep quarantined files before automatically deleting them. Use the History tab to see and remove quarantined malware, with links to online information about the malware so you can decide whether to delete a file or not.

So how can Microsoft give a tool like this away for free? While it doesn’t advertise it, MSE is part of Microsoft’s Forefront suite of security tools, based on the Forefront Endpoint Protection client used on enterprise desktops. This is basically what we use at the Borough of West Chester as part of our Microsoft 365 suite of products. When MSE detects malware it reports back to Microsoft, giving the company a wider view of the security landscape than it would get from just its enterprise security software. With millions of free copies of MSE, Microsoft’s paying customers get a more responsive and more secure set of tools, and we all get better security. A pretty sweet deal if you ask me!

One thing to realize. MSE is not compatible with Windows 8. When I upgraded my home PC and laptop to Windows 8 Consumer Preview I was prompted to first uninstall MSE. Windows 8 has a complete antivirus/antimalware solution built in which is very simular to this excellent product.