Antivirus Software Review: Malwarebytes
Malwarebytes derides its competitors variously as "reactive" and "ineffective". While we can't imagine the antivirus software's developers winning any awards for modesty, the US-based company does promise to annihilate any virus that other "one-dimensional" antivirus programs can't, thanks to its multiple security mechanisms and machine-learning technology. Our review will show whether the program truly is the 'Terminator' of viruses and malware that its marketing department claims it to be.
What Is Malwarebytes?
Malwarebytes is an antivirus program and cybersecurity software developer based in Santa Clara, California. The program comes in free and premium versions for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS, also offering specialized protection for Google Chrome devices. We tested the premium version on both Windows and Android but will reference the free version throughout the text as well.
Pros & Cons
Solid results from AV-Test
Clear subscription structure
Lacks certain features
Unremarkable testing lab scores
Noticeable system performance issues while running scans
Installation & Usage
Downloading and installing Malwarebytes takes a matter of minutes, if not seconds. There's no confusion about subscriptions because the installation file is the same for each version, and only after the program is installed, are you asked whether you have a license, plan to use the program's free version, or if you would like to start a 14-day free trial subscription. For the latter, you'll only need to supply an email address, so you don't have to worry about falling into the dreaded "subscription trap" of using a credit card and then forgetting to cancel before the deadline.
The software's user interface is organized into three areas: In the middle, you'll find information pertaining to your system's current security status. Should action be needed on your part, you'll be informed about it here first. On the menu bar above, you can view notifications, the support area, or adjust the program's settings.
The Malwarebytes user interface is intuitively designed and structured.
The lower half of the screen consists of three modules, Detection History, Scanner, and Real-Time Protection. Clicking on any of these will provide a selection of additional options and settings.
You can access all of the software's features with just a few clicks.
There's not really much else to say about the setup and user interface of Malwarebytes: The program is sleek, quickly installed, immediately ready for use, and very easy to navigate. We particularly liked that it isn't necessary to input any payment data to start using the free trial version, all the more since a number of Malwarebytes's competitors require this.
Score: 5 / 5
In the software's free version, only two of the three modules can be used, with Real-Time Protection reserved for premium subscribers. A full system scan, quick scan (only your memory and startup programs), or custom scan can all be performed without a license.
With the last type, you're able to select which folders and partitions should be analyzed for undesired programs and modifications, as well as what Malwarebytes should do in the event that they are found (ignore, warn, or automatically treat as malware).
Malwarebytes offers users the ability to perform a variety of different scans.
With the Scan Scheduler, you can set scans from any of the three categories to run at specific times and intervals. Reports from all scans are saved and archived allowing you to continually access and review them.
Real-time protection only for paying customers
This is where the Malwarebytes experience ends for free users since Real-Time Protection is limited to paying subscribers. This is divided into four layers:
Web Protection alerts you to dangerous websites, phishing attempts, and other online hustles. Malware and PUP Protection wards off programs that would harm your computer, such as viruses, adware, and other unwanted software. Ransomware Protection defends you against so-called extortion Trojans, which take your files or folders hostage (by encrypting them), only freeing them after you pay a hefty ransom. Rounding things out, Exploit Protection identifies malicious software that takes advantage of weaknesses and errors in your system.
Despite all of the above, the program lacks email protection: In other antivirus programs, you can set whether incoming and/or outgoing emails are scanned for threats or viruses. Webcam protection, which carefully monitors which programs have access to your webcam, is also missing.
Malwarebytes offers four protection layers, covering the most nefarious types of threats.
Settling for the basics
Unlike ESET, Malwarebytes doesn't have any "hidden" features stashed away in its sub-menus. What you see in the main dashboard, is, for all intents and purposes, what you get. Unfortunately, in comparison to some other antivirus programs, this is not that much. In addition to the lack of certain facets of real-time protection (email and webcam), the program is also missing a file shredder and a firewall, both of which are fairly standard among the antivirus programs from our sample.
Malwarebytes does offer a special subscription package that includes a VPN, however, if you're expecting a password manager, parental controls, performance tuning, an adblocker, or cloud backup, you'll likely be disappointed. This is more bearable than the absence of real-time email or webcam protection. In general, we had the impression after evaluating the programs from our sample that antivirus software developers artificially inflate their features or extras, since, in comparison to dedicated software, these add-ons are almost always of inferior quality.
Accordingly, we find the "minimalism" in Malwarebytes's offering somewhat refreshing. Unfortunately, this attempt to get rid of bells and whistles seems to have claimed one too many victims in the form of features that we consider necessary.
Malwarebytes is also available for free for Android users, albeit, like its desktop counterpart, without real-time protection. Even the mobile app's premium version is, relatively speaking, kept to the bare necessities: Alongside automatic real-time scans (with a few configuration possibilities) there's also privacy protection, which checks and provides a convenient overview of what kind of privileges any apps that you have installed enjoy.
iOS users won't be able to perform scans, which, at least according to support, is owing to a restriction by Apple. As a result, iOS users can only take advantage of Malwarebytes's real-time protection.
The Malwarebytes smartphone app is limited to the bare necessities.
Anti-theft features, an app lock, or remote access are also missing, with all focus instead on the mobile software's antivirus tools.
This emphasis on antivirus protection for both mobile devices and computers might be refreshing for some if Malwarebytes had truly only cut back on the (often) mediocre bells and whistles that its competitors offer, and not core competencies. Since a few of the latter are missing, Malwarebytes is mostly used in conjunction with other software. Thus, even though other programs might be less "one-dimensional" than Malwarebytes, they can be used to combat viruses on their own, without backup.
Score: 3 / 5
Security & Performance
To assess all antivirus software from our sample as objectively as possible, we consulted AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, two of the most reputable online testing labs. Each awards separate scores in the areas of performance and security to leading antivirus solutions at regular intervals. We also ran a full system scan using the software to check whether our computer evidenced any noticeable performance drops or lag.
The two testing labs we consulted awarded Malwarebytes very different scores: In the most recent analysis conducted by AV-Test (June 2021), the software received high or top scores, taking 5.5 out 6 points in security, and maximum points in performance.
AV-Comparatives had a less rosy assessment of the software. The independent testing lab rates security and performance across three levels, and Malwarebytes only did enough to reach the first. Too many false positives were the cause for its poor security score, while in the area of performance, issues arose when attempting to install the software or run programs while a scan was being performed.
Noticeable performance issues during scanning
AV-Comparatives' assessment of Malwarebytes' performance overlaps with our own evaluation. As soon as we started a scan, our PC slowed considerably. On the positive side, the scan only took a few minutes, although it checked far fewer objects than its competitors typically do. Likely, the latter is explained by the software's machine-learning, however, we prefer a more comprehensive scan that takes longer, while not causing too much trouble and running in the background.
Although fast, a Malwarebytes scan inhibited our ability to use our computer.
Owing to its unimpressive testing lab results, and the issues we noted when performing a full system scan, we can only rate Malwarebytes as "satisfactory" when it comes to performance. At the same time, in terms of security, the program received a poor score from AV-Comparatives owing to the high number of false positives, which should by no means be misconstrued as implying deficits in terms of protecting you and your system.
Still, there are enough antivirus programs out there offering a better blend of security and performance.
Score: 3 / 5
In contrast to the last section, Malwarebytes is fairly well-positioned when it comes to support. The program's help center provides a variety of informative articles and videos, organized by operating system. Thanks to the integrated search capability, you can quickly find what you need.
Malwarebytes' support center is solid.
In the past, Malwarebytes offered a live chat, however, as of the time of writing, direct support can only be requested via support ticket. During our evaluation, we waited a whole week for an answer, which only came after we opened a new support ticket. On the second attempt, the support team wasn't any faster, which means that the support response times are simply too long. The well-visited forum is cold consolation, however, at least there, you should get a prompt and informative reply from a member of the community.
Malwarebytes offers a solid help center, however, the lack of live support and the poor response times are really unfortunate. No one, let alone a premium subscriber, should have to wait a week for a reply to their query.
Score: 2 / 5
Malwarebytes' pricing structure is refreshingly straightforward: Private customers can use the program for free, in the Premium package (one device), or the Premium Home package (up to five devices). Next, you can select how long you'd like to subscribe for (one or two years, with the latter costing less per month).
Apart from these, there's also the option to book the Premium + Privacy subscription, which includes the aforementioned VPN.
The offers are more personalized for business customers and depend largely on the number of envisioned users.
Below, you can find an overview of the software's various subscription packages:
|Price per year||$0.00||from $79.98|
|Contract period (months)||0||12|
|Max. Number of devices||unlimited||5|
|Special Protection Features|
Since Malwarebytes is one of the few antivirus providers from our sample to offer such a simple pricing structure, comparing it to other services is fairly complicated. Most of its competitors are available in different premium versions, each of which comes with various features. As subscription packages and features for each program and package vary, the table below compares each provider's offering on the basis of a sample we created, utilizing the package which comes closest as each developer's entry. Based on this comparison, Malwarebytes is one of the most expensive solutions amongst the programs we assessed.
Despite its rather pompous claims of being able to do everything that other antivirus programs can't, Malwarebytes still leaves a good impression. This can be traced to its ease of use, navigation, and provision of the most sought-after features, with almost no proverbial "fat" or filler. Unfortunately, Malwarebytes lacks a few necessary components, with its superior "intelligence" not reflected in the test labs' assessments. For our part, we weren't thrilled with the software's performance issues when scanning, or the number of false positives which its scans delivered.
As a result, we recommend Malwarebytes as a supplementary, albeit not a stand-alone antivirus program, to be used in conjunction with other software. For some, it may be helpful, however, for the majority of users, what it offers will be overkill. There are simply too many absences in terms of features or deficits in the area of performance to recommend Malwarebytes as a comprehensive antivirus solution, to say nothing of its high (premium) price.
Customers like Malwarebytes: The program's user-friendliness is evidenced time and again, with nearly everyone rating the program as effective.
Alternatives to Malwarebytes
The top performer from our sample, Bitdefender is just as easy to use but received excellent scores from the two testing labs we consulted. Should you instead prefer a free antivirus program that offers robust protection, we recommend taking a look at Avast.
A list of the best alternatives can be found here:
- Trend Micro
- G Data
- 360 Total Security
- Internet Security
- Virus Protection
- Free Antivirus
- Android Antivirus
- Avast vs. Avira