Lets face it. If you are using Windows, you would be mad to not have a good antivirus installed on your system. That’s what you get when you are using the most widely used OS in the world. The bad guys are out to get you and your data. Yes, you, specifically. When it comes to antivirus software, you basically had the big two that used to rule the landscape. Symantec (Norton) and McAfee. Using free antivirus like AVG or Avast was considered less secure for the home user. People either invested in a good antivirus or used pirated copies of them to feel secure. Over time the free antivirus software also gained ground and today a lot of people use AVG and Avast.
AVG was my choice for a very long time. It was by far the best free antivirus available to home users. It was also relatively small and light on system resources. In contrast, Norton and McAfee were both over 250 mb in size and hogged system resources. They ran many different services in the background and warned you of dire consequences if you tried to disable anything that wasn’t the default recommendation.
All this was changed in September 2009 by Microsoft when they started offering Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) free of charge to people running genuine copies of Windows. Microsoft used to previously run the Live OneCare service which was a paid service offering similar protection. I have been using Windows 7 on my home laptop for the past month and the first thing I installed after Windows 7 had finished its stuff, was Microsoft Security Essentials. MSE is a free download from Microsoft’s website and has recently been updated to version 2 with some really nice changes.
I have always felt that protecting the OS from attacks should be the responsibility of the OS manufacturer and not some third party. Also, this protection should not be a basic level of protection, but a comprehensive one that covers all the vulnerabilities that the OS manufacturer identifies in their OS. MSE is just such an option available to users today.
With the initial version, MSE used to protect your PC from viruses, malicious software and spyware. The new version of MSE has also added a heuristics engine. This is probably the biggest addition to MSE as a whole. Having a heuristis engine present in MSE means that you can not only detect and act upon viruses/spyware known to the system, but can also detect virus/spyware like activity in documents and programs that may not currently identified as a virus or spyware. Most paid and free antivirus software tout this as being their biggest selling point.
MSE, now also has a network intrusion detection feature built in that monitors all traffic that is flowing into your PC. Earlier it would only scan files that you download from the internet specifically. Now, all traffic is monitored and intrusions are notified. MSE is also more tightly integrated with Internet Explorer, to actively identify and block any malicious attempts within the browser, like the download and running of malicious scripts on infected websites.
Finally, Windows Firewall can bow be controlled through MSE and you don’t need to enable that separately in the control panel. In fact, when you first install the update to V2, MSE tells to if the firewall is switched off and recommends that you turn it on.
You might say that all this is fine and that the other software do it too. The benefit of using MSE is, the tight integration that MSE has with Windows (especially in Windows Vista and Windows 7). Add to that the amazingly non-intrusive way in which the actual software runs in the background, and you really have a winner for the typical home user. In fact, MSE is the most silent system protection software that I have used. It is also very light on resources and you never really feel its presence.
The settings provided to the user are also much simpler as opposed to the loads and loads of options that are provided by other software. As a normal home user you really shouldn’t have to worry about what setting protects you best. The AV software should just work and be out of your way.
If you are using Windows, you really don’t need any other software to protect your PC. In case you do need more protection and don’t trust a free software from Microsoft, you can also try using MSE along with AV software like Avast or ESet. Apparently these play very well with MSE and provide additional real time protection for your PC.
[learn_more caption=”Warning about Fake MSE Clones and FakeInit Trojan“]
Looking at the success and popularity of MSE, there are a couple of malicious packages making the rounds on the internet. These are generally named “Security Essentials 2010” or “Security Essentials 2011” . These packages install on the user’s machines and look very similar to MSE. These have been identified to be carriers of the Fakeinit malicious code. These are mainly Trojans that display fake warnings and prompt the user to download software to get rid of the problem, and in the process infect the user’s machine.
You can see a fake MSE screenshot here.
Microsoft has a detailed description of FakeInit on their security page as well.
In short: Do not download “Security Essentials 2010” or “Security Essentials 2011” if you do see the option. MSE is free and available from the Microsoft website.