A little housekeeping before I talk about MSE…. I’m going to be starting a separate blog for work-related items and will post the address for that when it is ready. I mention that because this blog entry is about something that is becoming work-related, but the blog entry isn’t work related. In other words the following is completely my personal opinion and should not be confused with something coming from Microsoft.
There is nothing more frustrating than walking up to one of your relative’s PCs and discovering that they do not have up to date anti-malware software installed. Even after you’ve explained why they need it a dozen times. Even after you’ve paid for their subscription, only to discover they don’t renew when the subscription is up. Yet I run into this all the time. As an industry we need a reality check…the most vulnerable users are completely unwilling to pay for malware protection.
(Every computer (yes, MAC and Linux systems too) needs anti-malware software. It isn’t a matter of the basic security of the platform, it is the state of social engineering of malware. Even with ZERO exploitable bugs on a system, if you can get a user to run an application that application has some ability to steal information or cause damage. So let’s avoid the rat hole of focusing on exploits.)
Now personally I’ve always been willing to pay for anti-malware software, but have always been pretty frustrated with it. Most commercial packages I’ve tried have had obtrusive update processes and intrusive messaging (constantly nagging me with what they are doing). And the last few years “suites” have been in vogue, which unnecessarily try to replace the perfectly adequate facilities already available in my operating system with heavyweight (obtrusive, intrusive, and hard to use) alternatives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to temporarily disable one of the major security vendor’s firewalls because it was interfering with an operation on my LAN (that other firewalls did not). A few years ago I did find one product that was acceptable, Windows Live OneCare. I liked that it was unobtrusive. I didn’t like that it was filled with superfluous features like printer sharing or backup (because all I wanted was an anti-malware product). But with OneCare approaching end of life, I too was forced to re-evaluate what my home anti-malware solution was going to be.
For my relatives, and finally on my own systems, I started installing AVG Free or Avast! Home Edition so everyone would have anti-malware support without worrying about paying for a subscription. Both products have better detection rates compared to the “big two”, though they have higher false alarm rates (using data from http://www.av-comparatives.org/images/stories/test/ondret/avc_report22.pdf and making the possibly false leap of assuming that the free editions detect malware as well as the evaluated paid editions). I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. Well, there does appear to be something better coming for basic needs.
Microsoft Security Essentials is currently in beta, and fortunately I was able to grab a copy (before the beta hit its participant limits) and install the beta on a few machines. Now one nice thing about MSE is that it uses the same anti-malware engine as OneCare and Microsoft’s Forefront, which AV-Comparatives and VB100 rate very highly. Better detection rates than anyone other than Avira and the lowest false alarm rate in the industry. Hopefully testing of MSE will show it is in the same top tier as its cousins. What I also love about MSE is how unobtrusive it is. It uses Microsoft Update as its signature update mechanism, so no separate mechanism to monitor or put up annoying messages when there is a problem. And it doesn’t try to “improve” upon tools built into the other software I own, like IE or Mozilla’s anti-phishing (and more recently, anti-malware download) capabilities or the Windows Firewall. It is basically “install and forget”, and that is exactly what I think most home users need.
Microsoft Security Essentials is the product I’ve personally been waiting for, so I’m happy it is (almost) here. But even if you don’t agree, please do install some current anti-malware software. I’ve been happy with both AVG Free and Avast! Home Edition. One of the three should work for you.