Review of Microsoft Security Essentials
Near the end of September of 2009, Microsoft released its free anti-malware all-in-one software solution to the public. It is the successor to their previous commercially available security solution – Microsoft Live OneCare; which was discontinued in June 2009. In this article, we will discuss the advertised features of Microsoft Security Essentials (it shall be referenced as MSE for the remainder of the article); test the installation routine; review the total malware coverage during a scan; and verify the features advertised of MSE.
Microsoft advertises MSE as having the following features:
Complete anti-malware solution: It protects against viruses, worms, trojans, dialers, spyware, ad-ware, key loggers, malicious toolbars, and other kinds of malware.
Constant live protection: Instead of having pre-defined definition updates every few days or so, MSE receives definition updates as they become available.
MSE requires little resources: Many conventional security solutions are known to take up a significant amount of computing resources, which results in a slower running computer. Since MSE uses fewer resources, it will not slow down the computer for customers.
Obtaining MSE was easy and straightforward. It is advertised from their main website, as well as the other major software download venues. Performing a search engine query brings up the dedicated Microsoft webpage for MSE. Upon reaching their MSE webpage, I wanted to know the system requirements but was not able to locate them. There were many helpful links and even a video that shows how to download and install MSE. Since there were no listed system requirements accessible from the MSE webpage, it is assumed that it will work on all systems running a modern Microsoft Operating System (Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7).
Installing MSE was a very straightforward affair. Once downloaded, I ran the downloaded installer file and was presented with a few friendly looking windows which guided me through the installation of MSE. At the last screen, it automatically updated to the most current malware definitions. The definitions update only took a few minutes, which is standard for many of the competing security solutions. Following the definition updates, a quick scan was performed before you are presented with a “Finished” dialog which will allow you to dismiss the installer and resume working on the computer.
To test MSE and verify its advertised feature set; I installed MSE on three machines: A Dell desktop machine circa 2003 (Pentium 4 2.8Ghz, 512MB RAM, Windows XP Home); a HP laptop circa 2007 (Core 2 Duo 1.86Ghz, 2GB RAM, Windows Vista Home Premium); and an Acer laptop purchased August 2009 (Core 2 Solo 1.33Ghz, 4GB Ram, Windows 7 Ultimate).
The Dell desktop had prior protection with a version of McAfee that came with the computer and was kept up in updates and subscriptions. Most of the activities were consistent with a family machine – Internet, E-mail, music, pictures, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, some video games, and some file sharing. I found that although MSE advertises light resource use; it did slow the machine down further. Upon further investigation, this was due to two reasons: MSE was designed primarily for Windows Vista and Windows 7; so for use on Windows XP, there were extra bits of software updates that were installed in order to have MSE work with Windows XP. The other reason was that there were many other pieces of software installed and running in the background, which already taxed the system’s memory, so MSE pushed it over the edge. After MSE performed a full scan of this computer, I noticed that it took out about 66% of all the malware that was residing on the system, which even included viruses, worms, and trojans, and not just spyware and ad-ware.
The HP Laptop had a copy of Norton Internet Security which was expired and therefore not caught up on its definitions nor its subscriptions. The activities on this machine were consistent with a working professional who does occasional traveling, but who also uses their computer for both work and personal purposes. I found that MSE did not slow the machine down from its current running condition (In fact, it sped up considerably after I removed Norton Internet Security prior to the installation of MSE). Running a full scan removed about 57% of the malware found on the machine, which once again included viruses, worms, and trojans, not just the spyware and ad-ware.
The Acer laptop, being a recent acquisition, did not have much use, and it was recently upgraded to Windows 7 using what is called a “clean install”, which means the contents of the laptop’s hard drive was erased, then Windows 7 was installed. The laptop had no installed anti-malware solution, so I loaded the most common malware from the past (prior to 2004); all the most common present malware threats; and the most current top 10 threats. This load was the most varied of the test systems, and the most intense of infections. Upon performing a full scan, MSE removed 62% of all the malware on the machine, once again including viruses, worms, and trojans, not just the spyware and ad-ware. Like the HP laptop, MSE did not slow down this Acer laptop at all.
After these findings, I let each of these three computers sit for a day, and found that MSE did indeed download definition updates “constantly”, in 2 hour intervals. Each update only took a few seconds on the HP and Acer machines, but took about a minute on the Dell due to the machine’s sluggish performance.
In closing, I praise Microsoft for releasing a free anti-malware solution which lives up to all its claims, and is a nice step-up from the current free anti-virus & anti-malware solutions available to the public. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback regarding this article, please do not hesitate to contact the author, Peter Trinh at