All Windows PC owners need to run some kind of basic antivirus protection. For that, users have plenty of options — but Malwarebytes Anti-Malware isn't one of them.
That's because Malwarebytes didn't start out as a traditional antivirus protection program, and the company wasn't originally competing with regular antivirus software products. Instead of targeting the general rabble of malware on the Internet, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware focuses on catching the newest, most cutting-edge threats that other antivirus companies may not have caught yet.
Users shouldn't rely on the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware as their only security program. It's meant to complement regular antivirus software, but that doesn't mean they should overlook it.
Setup and interface
It's easy to install Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. The Get Trial button is featured prominently on the Malwarebytes website, and when you click on it, you'll be led directly to a download page. (Some other antivirus companies redirect you to third-party sites for the free versions.)
The page will try to upsell you to Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium, which is a full-fledged antivirus program that costs at least $40 per year. Ignore that and click on the Download button at the bottom of the screen.
Once the installer is downloaded, installation is as simple as that of any other program. The installer includes a two-week free trial of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium, but after that period is over, you'll be left with plain old Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
The main Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free user interface — the Dashboard — displays a series of horizontal bars, each of which delivers a different type of information.
In the top bar are tabs indicating the main features: Dashboard, Scan, Settings and History. At the end of this bar are two links urging users to create Malwarebytes user accounts and upgrade to the Premium version.
Below the tab bar is the thickest and most eye-catching bar: It's colored bright green if the program says you're secure, yellow if you haven't run a scan in a while and red if it detects any malware or potentially unwanted programs (PUPs).
Below that is a set of four thin, white bars showing the status of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware's license, database version, scan progress and real-time protection. The first and last items aren't applicable to users of the free edition; Malwarebytes Anti-Malware detects malware installed on your computer but doesn't stop malware from infecting your machine in the first place.
The left-hand side of the bottom bar advertises other Malwarebytes products; on the lower right is a Scan Now button that launches a full system scan.
When we clicked the Scan Now button, Malwarebytes informed us that the malware-definition database needed to be updated, even though the Upgrade Now link higher up in the Dashboard was grayed out.
Overall, the interface is colorful and straightforward. We liked the horizontal layout and simple explanations that help users understand what's happening without becoming overwhelming.
Features and tools
Unlike the premium version, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware does not let users schedule scans, so you'll have to manually open the program and click the Scan button each time you want to check for malware.
After a scan, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware will list the suspicious items it's detected and ask if you'd like to either quarantine them (place them in a secure area of your computer that Malwarebytes controls), ignore them this time or exclude them from all future scans.
You'll most likely choose quarantine. If you decide certain items are not malicious, you can always restore them by going to the History tab and selecting the individual items. You can then permanently delete items from quarantine by going to the History tab.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware lists a number of features and settings under the Settings tab on the Dashboard. However, not all of them are available to users of the free edition, and general users probably won't need the other tools there.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware does not have a quick-scan option or an automatic-update setting. However, there are a few great free tools, available from the Malwarebytes website, that can be used in conjunction with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
Our favorite free tool is Chameleon, a countermeasure against forms of malware that try to disable anti-malware programs on the computers they infect. Chameleon disguises Malwarebytes Anti-Malware so that malicious programs can't find it. Even if you can't install or access Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, you should still be able to run Chameleon, which will then launch the Anti-Malware program itself.
There's also Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit, a tool that monitors for attacks that get into your computer via software flaws instead of malware. Malwarebytes StartUpLite helps speed up your computer on startup by disabling any extra programs; Malwarebytes FileASSASSIN lets you delete files on your computer that you otherwise wouldn't have permission to delete, such as locked files or files in use by other programs; and Malwarebytes RegASSASSIN can remove registry keys from your computer, such as those used by advanced malware.
MORE: How to Defrag Your PC
For most antivirus software we review, we rely on results from German independent testing lab AV-TEST, which routinely examines all major security suites and scores them on their ability to detect both widespread and cutting-edge malware.
However, Malwarebytes doesn't submit its products to AV-TEST. The company says that Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, free or paid, doesn't aim to be a comprehensive antivirus program. Instead, the company says Malwarebytes Anti-Malware focuses on the newest and most subtle online threats that other security programs might miss.
AV-TEST RESULTS, APRIL 2014
Zero-Day Malware Detection (percentage)
Widespread Malware Detection (percentage)
Avast Free Antivirus
Avira Internet Security
AVG Antivirus Free
As such, we really don't know how it comparess to the other free security programs we're reviewing. We know that, unlike the others, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware doesn't prevent malware infection at all; it is meant only to remove malware, adware and other unwanted software that has already been installed.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware can scan for rootkits — hidden malware and other intrusive software that burrows deep into Windows and launches upon every startup — but that feature is not enabled by default. You have to go into Settings, select Detection and Protection and check Scan for Rootkits.
The 2014 version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware added the ability to detect malicious browser plugins on Chrome and Firefox. Detection of malicious Internet Explorer plugins had already been built in.
Ultimately, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware serves as a safety net to patch up any cracks that full-fledged antivirus software might leave out, and should only be used alongside such programs.
Anti-malware programs can affect your PC's performance, and in terms of system impact, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware had mixed results. On our test laptop, an Acer Aspire E1 with a Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, we installed and ran the benchmarking software PCMark7 with and without scans running in the background.
Our laptop's PCMark7 baseline score was 2,105. When running a full scan with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, that score dropped to 1,905 — a small performance hit that makes Malwarebytes the second-lightest program in terms of impact after AVG Antivirus Free.
We also used our custom OpenOffice test (which matches 20,000 names and addresses) to gauge Malwarebytes Anti-Malware's performance impact. Before Malwarebytes was installed, the test completed in 4 minutes. While Malwarebytes' full scan was running, the test completed in 12 minutes and 2 seconds — respectable, but still the second-largest slowdown after Avira Free Antivirus' extra-slow 22 minutes.
Still, Malwarebytes probably won't have a noticeable effect on your PC's performance, especially if you're running it on a robust processor with lots of RAM.
PCMark7 Quick Scan
PCMark7 Full Scan
Custom Test Quick Scan
Custom Test Full Scan
Avast Free Antivirus
Avira Free Antivirus
AVG Antivirus Free
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware wasn't designed to be used as an antivirus program. Instead, it's meant to work with your existing AV software of choice to provide quick and efficient removal of the latest and most dangerous malware. We particularly like the software's Chameleon feature, which can help users regain control of a seriously compromised machine.
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