Jeremy Laukkonen is automotive and tech writer for numerous major trade publications as well as the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. A fan of EVs since the early 2000s, he stays up-to-date on the myriad complex systems that power battery electric vehicles.
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Very easy to use
Able to identify and stop unknown threats
Free version works well
Premium version monitors for ransomware and exploits
Expensive per-device pricing
Free version needs manual updates and doesn’t include real-time protection
Low detection rates compared to traditional antivirus
Malwarebytes isn’t a full antivirus suite, but it is capable of detecting and eliminating malware, exploits, and even ransomware that’s never been seen before.
Malwarebytes is a malware detection and removal tool that’s available for free, and there’s also a premium version that adds some important features. It’s capable of detecting and eliminating all sorts of malware, including spyware, trojans, worms, and even ransomware, and the premium version includes real-time protection that can identify threats the moment they crop up.
We installed Malwarebytes on a test machine and put it through its paces to see how it works in the real world. We tested things like ease of use, how much of an impact it has on system resources, and more to see whether this is a tool worth keeping around. Read on to see our full findings.
Antivirus programs typically rely on virus signatures to identify known threats, and Malwarebytes does have that capability. This is a time-tested type of virus protection since it specifically targets actual viruses that other people have been infected with.
While Malwarebytes does include some virus and malware signatures, they are limited to specific threats that are currently active. That allows it to have a much smaller footprint since there is no massive virus signature database to take up space on your computer.
Instead of relying primarily on signatures, Malwarebytes uses advanced heuristic analysis, which looks at a program’s structure, behavior, and other factors to determine whether it’s legitimate or if it might be malware. This allows it to identify threats and neutralize them, even if your computer is literally the first one to ever be infected.
Malwarebytes isn’t a full antivirus suite, so there are a lot of things it can’t do that your typical antivirus can handle just fine. In the realm of malware, that relationship is flipped. Malwarebytes is capable of handling all types of malware, including spyware, trojans, worms, and even ransomware. It’s even capable of identifying traditional viruses, although it isn’t capable of restoring infected files the way a good antivirus can.
The free version of Malwarebytes is effective at rooting out all types of malware that have already infected your system, while the premium version is capable of detecting and eliminating malware in real time before it even becomes a problem.
Malwarebytes uses advanced heuristic analysis, which looks at a program’s structure, behavior, and other factors to determine whether it’s legitimate or if it might be malware.
Since Malwarebytes relies primarily on heuristics to identify malware, it’s even capable of identifying brand-new threats that nobody has ever seen before. Regular updates focus on strengthening this ability, rather than updating a list of malware signatures that have been identified in the past.
The specific locations that Malwarebytes scans vary depending on the type of scan you run. The default scan, which they call the Threat Scan, scans your main hard drive, memory, startup registry, and file system objects.
If you want to scan additional locations, the Custom Scan allows you to select additional hard drives, USB drives, and network drives. The third option is Quick Scan, which checks a few problem areas really quickly. Since MalwareBytes doesn’t have the ability to identify threats on networked devices other than drives, there is no network scan.
The user interface isn’t too hard to wrap your head around, but it does have some problems. The dashboard screen may be a little difficult to understand for some users, but there’s a big Scan Now button front and center when you launch the app. There are technically a handful of settings you can tweak before scanning, but first-time users will find the default scan to be quite thorough.
Finding individual settings can be a little tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but an inexperienced user will have absolutely no problem running the default scan and eliminating any malware that’s present on their machine.
There are technically a handful of settings you can tweak before scanning, but first-time users will find the default scan to be quite thorough.
When you’re ready to dig deeper, you’ll find the scan options in the Scan tab, quarantined files under the Quarantine tab, reports under the Report tab, and a variety of settings under the Settings tab, without any guesswork required. The Settings section is more complicated, with various options spread across six sections, but most users will be able to leave these settings alone anyway.
The free version of Malwarebytes doesn’t update automatically, so you have to update it yourself manually. It will also prompt you to update if you don’t update for a long time.
The premium version of Malwarebytes is capable of updating itself, and it also allows you to choose your update frequency. The default is for it to check for updates every hour, but you can set it to any interval between 15 minutes and 14 days. Malwarebytes releases updates daily, but they don’t have a published update schedule.
During our in-house testing, we found Malwarebytes’ default scan to be lightning fast. It’s capable of scanning the basics in just a few minutes, and it’s lightweight enough that we didn’t see our test system take any kind of performance hit. Scanning multiple additional locations takes longer, but it still doesn’t hog system resources.
A lot of antivirus and antimalware tools add a lot of bloat in the form of questionable features, but Malwarebytes remains laser-focused on malware. It can handle all types of malware, but you won’t find a password locker or email filtering.
Malwarebytes does include basic web protection, which is capable of blocking problematic websites. In terms of settings or options, there isn’t a lot there, but you can add sites to a safelist if you run into any false positives.
You also get a very competent ransomware blocker, which is capable of identifying ransomware and stopping it in its tracks. The idea is to shut ransomware down before it can start encrypting your files, so Malwarebytes can’t actually decrypt anything if you’ve already fallen victim to ransomware.
You also get a very competent ransomware blocker, which is capable of identifying ransomware and stopping it in its tracks.
Malwarebytes offers live chat, but we didn’t have a very good experience with it. We tried contacting live chat support several times during our evaluation process to see if they could answer some questions, but we weren’t ever able to get through. When that happens, they redirect you to a support ticket system.
We’ve never had any problems with Malwarebytes that actually required customer support. If you do end up having a problem, you’re probably going to have to wait for help.
Malwarebytes has a free version and a paid version. The free version is a good deal because it provides the same high level of protection as the paid version, with the caveat that it isn’t able to scan or update automatically.
The paid version adds some important features like automatic scans and updates, but it’s expensive. A single device license costs $59.99 for one year. That’s more expensive than most of the competition. The good thing is that you can add additional devices for just $10 each per year, so the pricing is much more attractive if you have a lot of devices you need to protect.
With both a free version and a single-device license priced at $29.99 per year, Adaware Antivirus is more cost-effective than Malwarebytes in terms of price. The free version of Adaware has a slight edge in that it offers real-time protection, but Malwarebytes’ heuristics are just better at finding and nailing previously unknown threats.
The Pro version of Adaware comes with a bunch of features you won’t get from Malwarebytes, including online shopping protection, a firewall, email protection, and network protection, which are all typical features of a full antivirus kit. But for pure malware detection and elimination, we still give Malwarebytes the edge.
A top choice for eliminating malware.
As a front-line malware detection and removal tool, we found Malwarebytes to be an excellent option. It isn’t a full antivirus suite, and you shouldn’t try to use it like one. But when used in conjunction with an actual antivirus, Malwarebytes excels at catching the dangerous things that fall through the cracks. Most people can safely stick to the free version, but the premium version is worth the upgrade, if only for the peace of mind of not having to worry about manual updates.
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