Malwarebytes review: So how good is it, really?

  • Author symbolAli Qamar
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Sleek minimalistic design
Provides good malware protection
Includes VPN
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iOS
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Malwarebytes is antivirus software that reminds me of Google’s early days in several ways. Back in the late ’90s, when the search engine war was unresolved, a brand new entity — Google — came online to conquer the rest. It stood out with a decidedly minimalistic appearance (nothing but a logo and a search box) and impressive performance by delivering relevant search results for almost every user query.

Likewise, Malwarebytes antivirus is also quite minimalistic, user-friendly, and quite effective against malware (as it claims). But does it have all the potential to rule the world of antimalware services? This detailed Malwarebytes antivirus review aims at answering this question for you.

Malwarebytes antivirus: The overview

Malwarebytes is one of the oldest antimalware programs, which started in 2006. The service was initiated as typical antivirus software, ultimately emerging as a dedicated antimalware solution for different devices and operating systems. Today, you can easily opt for Malwarebytes antivirus download on any device you own, including computers and smartphones alike.

Malwarebytes may not seem as feature-rich as its main competitors, but that’s not the case. Instead, this antivirus suite includes every core feature you could want or expect from an antivirus program —web protection, ransomware protection, malware protection, it’s all there. The difference is that additional features that have little or nothing to do with antivirus protection, such as firewalls, tuneups, password managers, or parental controls, are nowhere to be found here.

The top plan for Malwarebytes users includes a VPN service. But is it worth it? For a higher fee, almost every other top-notch antivirus option offers VPN services (Kaspersky, Avira, McAfee, Bitdefender, TotalAV, and others). But the value in that higher fee is hardly in the VPN itself because they offer many additional features –and some of them can be pretty helpful, depending on your digital lifestyle and the product you choose. In this regard, the marketing strategy seems misguided, but that’s what’s available.

So when you look at Malwarebytes as a whole, it’s a pretty basic but effective and austere antivirus. As such, it’s one of the best low-cost options in the market today.

Summary of Malwarebytes antivirus review

Malwarebytes is a pretty good antivirus that can surely protect your system at best. During this review, I loaded many malware files to my laboratory computer to test Malwarebytes. It detected 96% of them, which is pretty good. Then I tried the real-time protection, and it blocked about 99% of all the threats it found, which is beyond good. But, of course, this suite is quite specialized, typically focusing on malware protection only.

A web protection feature in Malwarebytes comes alongside the malware scanner. This feature also works very well, with an almost perfect score at detecting phishing threats.

While using the integrated VPN service to unblock geo-locked websites, this VPN appeared rather basic compared to premium vendors like NordVPN. Yes, it works for sure, but if you need a service that unleashes the power of VPNs, consider spending on a VPN subscription from a top-notch vendor instead.

Of course, the minimalistic streak with Malwarebytes misses out on additional features, but it has its advantages. To ensure everything runs smoothly, you don’t need to keep fiddling with your antivirus. Hence, it is perfect for users who want a cost-effective, low-maintenance antivirus option.

Similarly, the fee, fortunately, is commensurate with the minimalist features, so it’s pretty reasonable. In addition, there is a 14-day free trial available and an unusual 60-day money-back guarantee on every premium plan.

Pros:

  • Easy to install
  • User-friendly interface
  • Dedicated apps for various devices
  • Smooth security while running in the background
  • Cheap subscription cost

Cons:

  • Lacks many additive features such as password manager
  • VPN offers elementary functionality only
  • Lacks default full system scan

Malwarebytes security features

Virus Scanner

The suite’s detection strategy relies on both heuristics and signature-based identification. So, the software has a malware database to detect harmful files in your system. Still, it also pays attention to suspicious behavior in otherwise harmless files so that your system also remains protected from malware that is not yet in the database.

There are four types of virus scans for you to choose in Malwarebytes:

  1. Threat scan. It goes through your system’s key areas, memory, and startup files.
  2. Quick scan. Scans your startup programs and memory to identify active infections.
  3. Custom scan. This option checks any file or folder of your choice.
  4. Single item scan. Scans an individual file or folder.

Oddly, there is no default full system scan option in Malwarebytes. So if you’d like to run such a scan, you’ll have to pick the custom scan option and choose everything within your system. While it is not a problem for the most experienced users, an average user may not be comfortable this way.

As I tested the Threat scan for this honest review of Malwarebytes, I had 300.000 files checked on my system in less than a minute and a half. This is very fast as other products take as long as five minutes to perform the same operation. In the end, the antivirus found 75% of the malicious files it came across. (I already prepared some beforehand to test this tool.)

Then, during the full system scan through the Custom Scan option, the detection rate went up to 95%. That is a pretty good detection rate, but that scan took about 180 minutes — a rather long time. Also, the 95% detection rate still makes this service lag behind the likes of Norton or Bitdefender that achieve 100%. It means that Malwarebytes still has some room for improvement.

Real-time protection

Malwarebytes has a real-time protection feature, but it’s available only if you buy a license –which is a typical thing, anyway. It includes four layers of protection:

  1. Web protection.
  2. Malware and PUP protection.
  3. Ransomware protection.
  4. Exploit protection.

The real-time feature in Malwarebytes performed even better than the system scans as it detected and blocked 98% of the threats I tried.

So while the scan detection rate in Malwarebytes is merely within the industry average, the real-time detection rate is not. Instead, it’s way better than what you’ll get in most other products, even the premium options.

The ransomware protection in Malwarebytes is a bit of a chink in the suite’s armor. It’s not as good as the other real-time features. For example, Malwarebytes blocked two out of every three ransomware files on my hard drive during my tests with a ransomware simulator. However, this same simulator triggers a block for every single file in the attack in Bitdefender, McAfee, and Norton.

So Malwarebyte’s ransomware protection can improve, but the real-time virus and web features are better or comparable with the best ones in the industry.

Browser guard

Technically, the browser guard is not part of the antivirus software but a browser extension available for Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome. This extension aims to keep you safe from malware, ads, trackers, scams, and PUPs.

Using the extension is straightforward. Every protection comes enabled by default, so there’s nothing for you to do but load it. The only reason to fiddle with the extension’s settings is to turn off a specific protection layer –which you may need if, for example, you need to use a website you know to be safe but that the extension is blocking for whatever reason.

The extension correctly identified and blocked 9 out of every ten phishing sites I visited to test it.

Malwarebytes claims that your browser’s performance will increase four-fold if you use the extension because of all the ads and unwanted items that the extension will block. So I pointed my browser to some websites whose ad content is a nightmare. But, unfortunately, I found that Browser Guard doesn’t stop every ad.

So the Browser Guard is adequate protection against phishing sites but not as good as an ad blocker.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Malwarebytes also offers a virtual private network service for premium users. Its network spans 300 servers scattered around 30 countries. It’s not a significant number of servers, but it’s remarkable for the type of VPN service bundled with antivirus packages.

The WireGuard protocol is available in this VPN, a feature above the VPN industry standard. It stands out because of the high degree of security it guarantees without sacrificing transfer speeds. It is a feature you find in some of the best standalone VPN vendors like Surfshark.

The servers within the Malwarebytes VPN network stick to a strict no-logs policy. It is one of the most crucial features you should always require from any VPN server if you hope to trust it with your privacy.

But the VPN lacks some essential features that should be mentioned in this unbiased review of Malwarebytes antivirus. One such feature is the kill switch. While it is not necessarily a deal-breaker when choosing a VPN (lack of a zero-log policy would be). But it is an important feature, especially if you do a lot of your browsing or online activities in public WiFi hotspots in which hackers are always having a picnic.

The situation becomes a little worse when you realize that other antivirus VPNs such as Kaspersky or Bitdefender have a kill switch indeed (besides offering an antivirus suite that is better in almost every regard). So Malwarebytes needs to develop a kill switch as soon as possible to stay in the race.

The speeds in the Malwarebytes VPN are pretty good, though. My transfer speeds increased when I connected to a nearby VPN server, compared to my regular ISP server. This is quite rare, as VPN use usually needs to sacrifice some speeds and performance.

So what about using this VPN with video streaming websites? I hear you ask. Unfortunately, Malwarebytes VPN won’t work with Netflix and similar websites. If video streaming is high on your priority list, the antivirus-related VPN that will do the trick is TotalAV‘s. However, you’ll be better off if you pick an excellent standalone VPN vendor such as NordVPN.

Another limitation of this VPN is that it does not support BitTorrent. This is not about technology or bandwidth limitations. Instead, the company doesn’t want you to use torrents and will actively oppose you if you try. If the admins catch you using the VPN to share your torrent files, you can have your account disabled or deleted. So beware of this issue, and if torrenting is your thing, don’t do it with this VPN.

Besides, Malwarebytes VPN is not a kind of VPN that would work in repressive regions like China. If you are in a country that practices internet censorship, this service won’t help you bypass it. (Again, if you need this, try another good VPN that can work in China and alike).

Malwarebytes Pricing and Plans

There are three plans on offer with Malwarebytes: Free, Premium, and Premium + Privacy. Every option gives you a 60-day money-back guarantee, which is above the average 30-day guarantee –only Norton matches Malwarebytes in this regard.

Another exciting feature is the lock-in rate. It means that if you choose to auto-renew your license, your following fee will be the same as the one you paid initially, even if the current price at the time of renewal is higher. It’s a very nice feature because it’s almost unique in the antivirus industry.

Let’s look at each plan and what it offers to the customers.

Free plan

Interestingly, you can get the Malwarebytes antivirus for free. The Free package includes the malware scanner and the Browser Guard extension. It could seem like too little to be worth it, even for free. But users who need a quick way to get rid of existing malware infections from their systems can profit from this service. Also, if your browsing habits take you often to fishy sites, it will be good to have the Browse Guard extension covering your back.

However, Malwarebytes Free as a standalone solution is not good enough. The main problem is the lack of real-time protection. Most free real-time scanners are not very good, anyway. But if you are looking for a free option as comprehensive as you can get in the current market, there are better options.

However, if you spend a few bucks, perhaps, Malwarebytes might serve you better.

Premium plan

Malwarebytes Premium is a good suite if you want a high-powered antivirus scanner. Interestingly, Malwarebytes Free will give you 14 days of Malwarebytes Premium features trial without any payment. So you can test the Premium service in full without risking any money.

The Premium option gets you the malware scanner, real-time protection, and the Browser Guard extension. So, it’s a free package with real-time scanning added for good measure.

The crucial question is, of course, if having a real-time scanner is worth the upgrade in terms of the fee? The answer is yes. The real-time protection enhances your digital safety in several layers. Being safe from online scams, phishing, ransomware, PUPs, backdoor attacks, and other vulnerabilities is essential, especially today when digital criminal activity is up in unprecedented numbers. Everybody is a potential victim, and that includes you.

So, if you want a digital security solution that is both simple and effective, this is the choice for you. Also, it offers a 60-day money-back guarantee if you need to change your mind.

Premium+Privacy plan

Last but not least, there’s the platform’s top plan in both pricing and functionality. The Premium+Privacy plan gets you the Premium features plus the VPN service (already described above). However, since this VPN is quite minimalistic, the cost of this pricing plan may appear somewhat higher when compared to other similar services.

So is Malwarebytes VPN the right VPN for you? It will depend very much on your specific digital habits. The best way to find out is to download it, install it, and try it yourself. That’s the point in 60-day money-back guarantees. So the chances are that you won’t need the entire two months of the trial to find out for sure if this software and VPN do the trick for you.

Setup and ease of use

Downloading, installing, and setting up Malwarebytes took me fewer than three minutes. It’s that simple and quick. Also, I was able to use all the features without a problem. This is remarkable in itself.

The most impressive thing with this service, worth mentioning in this review, is the Malwarebytes free download option for new users. During my test, it didn’t ask me to provide any personal information to activate the free trial. Almost everybody else will ask you to provide at least an email address, and some will go as far as to require a credit card number. Malwarebytes asks for nothing in this regard, showing how the free trial is about zero commitment. It is a welcomed feature because it helps with the user’s peace of mind, and it also indicates that the vendor is putting its money where its mouth is.

The one thing that comes to mind about Malwarebyte’s interface is minimalistic. It’s easy to navigate, simple, clean, and transparent. Everything you can or need to do with this software is straightforward to do.

Every real-time protection is active by default. So, you’ll get top-notch protection right from the beginning without fiddling around with the options.

A common issue with antivirus software is how they affect a computer’s performance. In this department, Malwarebytes is a sure winner. It didn’t affect my system’s performance in any noticeable way. This is remarkable as most other antivirus programs affect a computer, especially when you’re running full system scans –and that’s not to mention the handful of exceptionally effective antiviruses that become the actual owner of your computer as soon as you install them.

The Play Mode in Malwarebytes is also very nice. It will hide notifications when some programs are running in full-screen mode, which means that your gaming or streaming activities won’t be disturbed by your antivirus. But you have to add those apps manually, which is a bit of a nuisance.

So the desktop Malwarebytes interface is simple, intuitive, easy to use, light on your system’s resources. Very good overall.

The Malwarebytes Mobile App

The mobile side of things is there for both the iOS and Android platforms. Both are well-designed and easy to use. But the Android app is better in terms of functionality options than its iOS counterpart (which is the usual thing, anyway). I tested both and found them easy to install and use, highly intuitive, and effective.

The Android app can perform every task available with the desktop software. It will even give you a few more things to do, like a privacy audit tool and spyware protection. This feature will let you figure out your phone or tablet’s permissions to every app. In this way, you can find out who can track your location, monitor your calls, and a lot more.

Since iOS devices can’t catch digital infections (or so is a common belief), the corresponding Malwarebytes iOS app is more limited. Consequently, a digital environment with no viruses to talk about needs no malware scanner. So what does the app do, then? It does web protection, ad blocking, and scam call blocking. This is maybe not enough to justify installing it, but I still enjoyed the app’s simplicity and ease of use.

The antivirus industry offers better mobile apps for both of the major platforms. For instance, yours truly is partial to the Norton Android and McAfee iOS apps.

Still, there’s something to the Malwarebytes mobile apps. They’re good enough, and the less technologically expert users will find them helpful.

Customer Support

In this area, as in almost every other digital technology, we are always hoping that we won’t ever need to use the provider’s customer support system. But when we need it, we want it to be quick, effective, and helpful.

The Malwarebytes customer support system includes a good knowledge base, email support, and a live chat. These are standard options in the industry, but it lacks the phone support option, which you can find in many of its top competitors.

I started testing the customer support system with the support chatbot. Do not expect a highly sophisticated IA-driven chatbot that tries to simulate a chat. Instead, this chatbot is a glorified search engine for the knowledge base. With every question you ask, you’ll get an answer that provides you with links to the articles that could help you in your query. The pieces are excellent, their explanations are detailed and accurate, and they will show you all you need to know about the program and the tasks it can perform.

So what do you do if you find that the articles provided by the chatbot don’t solve your problem? You get in touch with the email support team. That’s what I did — submitted a ticket through the official website and got a response in about a day. The answer was helpful enough, and the response time was all right.

But a live chat option would be a welcome addition to this service, let alone a phone option. The main limitation in this customer support system is that there is no way to get a question answered immediately unless it’s in one of the knowledge-based articles. So, if you experience a complicated issue that needs immediate assistance, you’re out of luck, and you’ll need to wait for the answer to come in an email. But the email personnel are knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.

Malwarebytes Premium: is it worth it?

The Malwarebytes Premium subscription will get you plenty of good stuff. The real-time protection is excellent, the phishing protection is good, the VPN is fast. But if you pick this antivirus suite and services, you’ll find that you’re not getting some features that are readily available with some competitors for a similar price.

On the other hand, things like a firewall, system optimization, and password managers come with the package even at the basic level with other vendors, and Malwarebytes sticks to its one trick.

Our testing process found Malwarebytes to have a reasonable detection rate of 95%. (But that still falls short of the 100% you could get with Norton, Bitdefender, or McAfee). However, its real-time protection performs better, at 98%, and in this regard, it’s as good as any other option in the market.

The VPN you get at the top level is fast and reliable but useless for streaming. Also, bypassing censorship and torrenting is not merely frowned upon by the vendor but actively punished.

So, Malwarebytes does provide value for money in some respects. However, if you want a full-featured internet security suite that offers everything Malwarebytes does and much more for the same price, in that case, Norton 360 Standard or Bitdefender Total Security are better choices in terms of functionality and value for money.

As for the question, “is it worth it?” the answer is, it depends. If you need a simple, minimalistic, easy-to-use, install-and-forget antivirus software that does a decent job at keeping you safe and has a basic VPN, then it’s worth it. And you will still have 60 days to change your mind and get your money back if that’s how things turn out.

Conclusion

Summing up this Malwarebytes antivirus service review, it seems that this service prioritizes its software’s ease of use and simplicity. Again, perhaps inspiration from Google.

However, this minimalism comes at the cost of many extra features almost standard in its competitors. (Unlike Google that surpassed its rivals in every aspect). That’s where it misses out.

If this antivirus becomes a significant player in this market, it must learn to do the one trick it does better than anybody else. Otherwise, all that simplicity and minimalism do not make a great product easier to use — they make evident how this product needs to improve in several ways.

There are users for whom this internet security suite is enough. However, those who crave simplicity, lack the sophistication, knowledge, or higher expectations of an expert user.

In short: Malwarebytes is not the antivirus that will suit the needs of a hacker or a power user. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for an antivirus that you can install on your grandmother’s computer, this is the one for you.

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