Can Microsoft Security Essentials Do Desktop Security Alone?

Security Essentials is a quick and easy download. Once installed, it scans the machine for malware. We ran into a problem though. Before scanning, Security Essentials attempted to complete a virus and spyware definition update and halted with the error message, "Connection failed," even though the system we were testing on had an active connection to the Internet. However, clicking the "Update" button resulted in a successful update.

Perhaps our fears were unfounded. With Security Essentials real-time protection enabled, we were unable to download a test virus file, although the message that comes up when trying to download is a little confusing. Rather than displaying something along the lines of Security Essentials is preventing the download, we got a Windows messagebox notification that "You need permission to perform this action." We can't complain too much, though, as the malicious file was blocked from downloading.

We ran a Quick Scan in Security Essentials with two malicious files in .zip format residing on the system and one unzipped file. About three-fourths of the way through the scan we received the message that our computer had been cleaned. Security Essentials successfully discovered and cleaned the unzipped file, but not the two contained in zipped folders. This is unsettling, especially since we ensured that "Scan archive files" was selected in the "Settings" option -- this ensures that .ZIP and .CAB files are scanned.

Security Essentials is pretty nimble, however. It took about 12 minutes to scan 15 GB of data. This was on a system running Windows 7 with Intel Core 2 Duo, 2.53 GHz CPU and 4 GB of RAM. The interface is also simple and clean and is a definite improvement over older security offerings from Microsoft.

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Users can set scan schedules or run them manually. You can also perform actions based on the level of security alert, for example you could remove malware flagged as severe and opt to quarantine low-alert items. Users can also exclude designated files, locations and processes from scanning altogether.

Some advanced features include the ability to scan removable drives, create a system restore point on a daily basis before cleaning a system, and the choice to allow non-administrator users to view items in the History tab.

We wanted to test to see if having Security Essentials running would interfere with downloading and installing other antimalware products. We chose to download ClamWin, the free open-source antivirus software. We were able to successfully download and install it. ClamWin was able to scan the system even with Security Essentials' real-time protection running.

Hopefully, Security Essentials will work as cooperatively with proprietary antimalware clients like Trend Micro's, Symantec's and others. It appears to provide some basic protection, but users probably should not rely to completely protect the desktop on its own.