Malwarebytes Review 2022: Is the Free Version Really Safe?

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8.4 Excellent!
Written by: Kate Hawkins
Last updated on May 8, 2022

Malwarebytes Overview May 2022

You’ve probably heard that Malwarebytes offers a popular free antivirus, but what’s less known is that the free version doesn’t come with any real-time protection. You won’t be alerted to any malware infections so your device isn’t kept 100% safe.

To see whether it’s worth upgrading to the premium plan, I thoroughly tested Malwarebytes’ virus scan and real-time protection on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. While I found that the Malwarebytes Premium plan provides exceptional protection against malware — it doesn’t do much more than that.

For a slightly cheaper price, you can get a low-cost antivirus like Bitdefender, which even comes with a password manager, webcam blocker, and firewall. If you’re willing to pay a little more for a truly premium antivirus package, then Norton 360 is the best choice on the market.

However, I’d stick to Malwarebytes’ premium plan if you’re only looking for basic yet powerful antivirus protection. You can even confirm my test results for yourself and try Malwarebytes with the 60-day money-back guarantee. It’s completely risk-free — I tested it myself and I got a full refund in 8 days.

Try Malwarebytes Premium for free for 60 days!

In a Rush? Here’s a 1-Minute Summary

Security - 10

Malwarebytes’ security options provide the high-quality protection and coverage that you’d expect from a top-tier antivirus solution. I was impressed by how well its virus scan could detect malware — it discovered 100% of existing and known viruses. Malwarebytes also exceeds the industry standard at identifying new threats for Windows and Android devices. When it comes to protecting your Mac, Malwarebytes is on par with other leading antivirus software.

Virus Scan — Comprehensive and Customizable Scan Options

Malwarebytes successfully detected 100% of malware discovered in the last 4 weeks. This means you can rest assured that Malwarebytes will identify and protect your device from all known threats.

Malwarebytes has 3 scan options to choose from: Quick Scan (checks for threats in your memory and startup objects), Threat Scan (looks for threats in the places malware most commonly infects), and Custom Scan (chooses what and where you want Malwarebytes to check for threats).

Screenshot of Malwarebytes virus scan options.

Malwarebytes has customizable scan options with Threat Scan set as the daily default

The free plan only offers Threat Scan, which checks the areas on your device that malware is most likely to hide. This includes your device’s system memory, registry, and startup files. Threat Scan runs once a day automatically if you have the premium plan, but you have to manually run the scan yourself on the free plan (so your device isn’t protected in real-time).

During my tests, I was impressed by the fast scanning speeds. In just over a minute, Malwarebytes’s Threat Scan checked over 300,000 items and found 2 PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs) hiding in my computer. This is markedly faster than scans from other top services like Norton, which takes 2 minutes to complete its Quick Scan of 11,500 items. The Threat Scan doesn’t check for rootkits, scan archives, or detect unwanted files and programs so it’s good for a quick daily checkup.

Screenshot of Malwarebytes Threat Scan results

Malwarebytes’ scans are fast with little impact on system performance

In my experience, Malwarebytes didn’t flag any safe files as suspicious during scans. However, I know that other users have found Malwarebytes’ scans can falsely flag safe files as containing malware. While this may seem like an inconvenience, it’s actually the way the scan engine learns which files are threats to improve overall accuracy in the future. I’d rather deal with a few false flags because of Malwarebytes’ diligent detection than let a threat attack my devices.

The most thorough option is the Custom Scan which lets you decide the areas and items you want to check. When I ran a Custom Scan, I manually ticked every available option to ensure it was as thorough as possible. It takes longer than the other scans — during my tests, it ran for 92 minutes and checked 750,000 items on my Windows computer. I’ve noticed that other antivirus plans like McAfee have a more convenient Full Scan option. This saves you from manually ticking every option and provides a comprehensive system scan.

So if you want to use Malwarebytes’ free plan, the virus scan you’re getting will be limited both in scope and in the type of threats it detects. The scans included with the premium plan are fast and effectively detect malware and unwanted programs.

Real-Time Protection — Blocks Ransomware, Phishing Scams, and Other Malware

Important! Real-time protection is not included in Malwarebytes’ free plan. Using the free plan alone won’t protect you from zero-day attacks so I can’t recommend using it as protection by itself. If you want a free solution that offers complete security, I’d recommend taking a look at Norton, TotalAV, Panda, or Avira.

Real-time protection is an integral part of any antivirus plan. It automatically detects and stops viruses, ransomware, and hackers as soon as they attack your device without you needing to run a scan. It should also pick up on the newest online threats for which developers haven’t yet created protective code.

To implement real-time protection, Malwarebytes has 4 layers of security:

  • Web Protection: Blocks online scams, phishing sites, and websites known to host malware.
  • Malware Protection: Stops malware, ransomware, spyware, and more from infecting your devices.
  • Ransomware Protection: Blocks malware that is specifically designed to lock access to your devices and files, then demands payment to reinstate your control.
  • Exploit Protection: Prevents malware that uses existing vulnerabilities to allow hackers and cybercriminals to take control.

To provide you with comprehensive real-time protection, Malwarebytes uses signature-based detection and heuristic analysis. Signature-based detection looks at code and data that has infected other devices so that similar threats can be identified easily in the future — Malwarebytes’ detection is about 5% signature-based.

Where this software really shines is in its heuristic analysis. This looks at known behaviors and structures of malware threats to determine if a piece of software or code is malicious. It’s such an effective method of malware protection because Malwarebytes can apply this analysis to brand new threats just by seeing how they behave.

With multi-layered protection like this, Malwarebytes has one of the most efficient and comprehensive methods of securing your devices against online threats.

Web Protection — Effectively Blocks Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are often disguised as legitimate websites and emails, which then trick you into entering personal details like your credit card information or passwords. Web Protection prevents you from accessing malware-infected sites and blocks suspicious links in emails.

I visited several websites known to host malware and Web Protection stopped me from entering the sites. I also tried clicking a link from an email in my junk folder and I was prevented from proceeding through to the scam site.

Screenshot of Malwarebytes' Web Protection actively blocking a website hosting malware

The Web Protection feature is automatically activated when you install Malwarebytes Premium

Malware Protection — Detection Rates Surpass the Industry Standard

During testing, Malwarebytes’ real-time protection detected 99.1% of new threats discovered in the previous 24 hours. I’m impressed by this high detection rate as the industry average is 97% (only the top-tier antivirus programs achieve 100%, like Norton 360). Malwarebytes only flagged a single harmless file as containing malware — considering the standard for antivirus is 15 falsely flagged files, this is impressively small.

Ransomware Protection — Effective Security From the Latest Threats

This is an advanced cyberattack that encrypts your device and prevents you from accessing your files unless you pay the hacker a ransom. To prevent you from accidentally downloading ransomware, Malwarebytes scans suspicious files and compares it with a global database of existing ransomware.

Ransomware protection is included in the Premium plan as part of the real-time protection feature. However, Mac users will notice that this feature is missing due to the fact that it’s extremely rare for ransomware to infect Mac. If you want to be on the safe side (and this is my preference), I suggest you consider a Mac-specific antivirus like Intego.

Exploit Protection — Blocks Attacks on Vulnerable Software

Exploits are devious malware attacks that take advantage of bugs or vulnerabilities in software. Once inside, the exploit causes the software to perform unexpected actions, like downloading a specific file from the internet. It acts as a gateway for additional malware and one exploit can let multiple viruses in over time if it isn’t stopped. This is because antivirus software often focuses on the malware attack, missing the exploit.

Malwarebytes Exploit Protection acts as a shield to protect the most commonly-attacked apps. It detects when a shielded app is under threat of being exploited and blocks the malicious code from entering automatically and in real-time. I really like that the list of apps is fully customizable so I could add more programs to the protection list. Exploit Protection comes with a list of apps that it protects by default but I had other apps I wanted to secure too. It was easy to add the apps I wanted to protect.

Screenshot of Malwarebytes' Exploit Protection protected apps list.

Easy to add and remove additional programs to Exploit Protection settings

While the list of automatically shielded apps is good, I’d recommend adding your own frequently-used apps to the Exploit Protection. This ensures that you’ve got full coverage from exploits.

System Performance — Little to No Impact on Regular Device Speed

I didn’t notice a significant impact on my system while Malwarebytes was running in the background. It’s not resource-intensive while it performs scheduled scans or checks for online threats with its real-time protection. Having Malwarebytes run scans and operate in the background is fine while you’re using your device — I didn’t even notice it while I checked emails, browsed the web, and used my computer for work.

While Malwarebytes generally doesn’t impact system performance much, I discovered that it considerably slowed my device when I was installing new apps. When I installed both Microsoft Office and Netflix, I found my Windows computer ran sluggishly and wasn’t as responsive. This is because of the intensive scanning the antivirus performs to ensure the app is safe.

Due to this low system impact, I found that Malwarebytes is compatible with other antivirus programs. It doesn’t conflict with antivirus software from providers like TotalAV, McAfee, or Norton. As such, I’d recommend using Malwarebytes’ free version alongside your existing antivirus software as it targets new threats that other software could miss.

Features - 6

Malwarebytes’ real-time security is top quality, which makes its lack of extra features disappointing. Both Norton and TotalAV have password managers, parental control features, and tools to optimize your device’s performance. However, I was still impressed with the performance of its smaller range of features.

Browser Guard Extension — Blocks Ads and Flags Malware on Chrome and Firefox

Browser Guard is a free browser extension that blocks ads and detects suspicious links. When I tested Browser Guard, I noticed that websites loaded faster as I didn’t have to wait for ads to load. It also blocked me from clicking into a potentially malicious torrent-hosting website when I was looking for files to download.

Screenshot of Browser Guard preventing access to a website hosting malware.

Browser Guard protected me from malicious websites by scanning every site for threats

You have to download Browser Guard separately as it isn’t included with the app, but this takes less than a minute and it’s 100% free. The downside is it’s only available on Chrome and Firefox. Other antivirus options like Norton have greater browser compatibility and include Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari.

I found that Browser Guard isn’t crucial if you’re already using the Malwarebytes Premium, as you’ve already got real-time online protection. It’s much more useful if you’re using the free version.

Play Mode — Pauses Notifications While Streaming, Gaming, or Presenting

When switched on, Play Mode pauses all notifications from Malwarebytes on your device. I like that I can specify apps that I want the feature to be turned on for. Play Mode recognizes when these apps are in fullscreen mode and doesn’t deliver pop-up notifications when they’re active.

Screenshot of the Malwarebytes antivirus program with Play Mode activated to stop notifications when gaming on apps like Steam

You can add as many apps as you want to Malwarebytes’ Play Mode feature

Bonus VPN — Maximizes Your Online Anonymity and Unblocks Netflix

Malwarebytes offers a VPN with unlimited data on its Premium+Privacy plan (you’ll need to download an additional app to use it). It’s a pretty good VPN with 300+ servers in over 30 countries, considerably more than Norton’s VPN offering in 30 server locations. I could even unblock Netflix US and Hulu from my location in the UK!

It’s also very secure. I ran a series of IP and DNS leak tests to establish whether any data was “leaking” from the encrypted VPN connection. Malwarebytes passed every leak test and kept my data secure.

Screenshot of IP and DNS leak test for Malwarebytes Privacy VPN

Malwarebytes’ VPN protected my data with its encrypted connection

Unfortunately, my speeds also dropped by almost 65%. This is a significant slowdown, and I experience a lot of buffering and lag during my tests. I’d use this VPN only for privacy and anonymity purposes — it’s not the best for gaming, streaming, or torrenting.

Ease Of Use - 7

Malwarebytes is compatible with Windows (10, 8, 8.1, and 7), macOS (10.11 or higher), Android (6.0 or later), and iOS (11 and later). It only took a few minutes to download and install Malwarebytes (I tested a Windows computer, Mac laptop, Android smartphone, and iPhone XS) and I was ready to perform my first scan in minutes. I was also pleased to find that the Malwarebytes desktop app was a tiny 250MB so it didn’t take up much space on my laptop. Compared to some antivirus programs that are 1GB or even bigger, Malwarebytes is quite compact.

Desktop App — Simple and Clean Interfaces on Windows and Mac

I found the interface very intuitive and simple as its features are all clearly labeled. Better still, Malwarebytes Premium automatically updates its features and virus database every hour. I was impressed that you can even configure it to update more or less frequently (between 15 minutes and 14 days!). Unfortunately, the free version makes users manually check for updates, which leaves your device potential at risk of new cyberthreats.

Once I installed the app, all the real-time protections were automatically activated. My device scans were automatically configured to run once a day, so I didn’t need to do anything unless a suspicious file was discovered. I found that changing the settings to suit my preferences was straightforward — I just clicked the small cog icon in the upper-right corner of the app. I could choose from 23 different supported languages, including English, French, and Japanese. I could also alter real-time security options like scan locations and automatic quarantine.

Screenshots highlighting MalwareByte's user-interface on Windows and Mac

I like that the Malwarebytes app has all the essential features on the dashboard for easy access

The Mac app is slightly different to the Windows version — there is no dedicated ransomware, web, and exploit protection for macOS. Ransomware for Macs isn’t prevalent but it’s growing in number, so it seems risky to me to not have it. However, you’ll still be protected from other types of malware and you’ll even have access to the Mac-exclusive App Block feature. This feature scans apps from specific developers known to release potentially harmful software.

Web Protection Mobile App — Available for Android, iPhone, and iPad

Both the Android and iOS apps offer Web Protection, which detects and blocks phishing scams. However, that’s where the similarity ends. They’re strikingly different in appearance which isn’t something I’ve seen frequently with apps from the same company. Despite their differences, both apps are intuitive to navigate as features are labeled clearly.

Screenshots of Android and iOS app interfaces.

The Android and iOS apps are very different in looks and capabilities

The Android app secures your smartphone against real-time attacks. It also blocked phishing websites by scanning for malicious links and checked my files and folders for hiding malware. I particularly liked the Privacy Audit feature, so I could see at a glance which apps were monitoring my activity or accessing my personal info. If the app finds a suspicious file, it lets you ignore, whitelist, or delete it. Even better, the whole package is only 74.5MB, which is an impressively small size and doesn’t take up much space on your device.

Malwarebytes’ iOS app protects your iPhone or iPad from scam calls and text messages. It does this by identifying calls and texts from known scammers and blocking them. The iOS app also has an Ad Blocking feature that blocked pop-up ads when I was using Safari and stopped trackers from targeting my activity. This kept my online browsing private so I didn’t get personalized ads based on my searches or location. However, there’s no virus scan because iOS apps are “sandboxed” (meaning they can’t access data from other apps).

Disappointingly, neither mobile app offers an anti-theft feature. Given that the biggest threat to your mobile device is if you lose it or it’s stolen, an anti-theft tool is a huge advantage. Other antiviruses like Norton 360 have it available on their mobile apps.

Support - 10

Malwarebytes’ customer support is easy to access and staff members are friendly and knowledgeable. I tested both the 24/7 live chat and email support and both provided comprehensive answers to my questions. Both of these options are available for Free plan users as well as Premium users. There isn’t a way to contact Malwarebytes by phone, but I didn’t find this an issue as the available support is excellent.

24/7 Live Chat — Best Way to Contact Customer Service

Live chat is the best way to speak to the customer support team. I tested this feature at different times of the day and was connected in less than 2 minutes every time.

I was impressed by the quick response time and the detailed answers the support agents provided. For example, I couldn’t find Malwarebytes’ “Gamer Mode” (which is what its “Play Mode’’ is commonly called on other antivirus software) and contacted the live chat for assistance. The rep told me how to find the setting and sent me a link with a detailed, step-by-step guide to configuring it. He also made sure I was satisfied my question had been answered before ending the chat.

Screenshot of Live Chat feature and agent resolving a technical question.

Malwarebytes’ support agent was friendly, helpful, and prompt at answering my questions

Before the representative speaks to you, the live chat feature asks for your name and email address. Once I’d disconnected from the chat, I found that the entire transcript of our conversation had been sent to my email address. This is especially useful as I could now refer back to this transcript if I had similar problems in the future.

Email Support — Great Alternative to Live Chat

I was impressed by how promptly Malwarebytes’ staff responded to my email requests. I waited less than 3 hours for a response after submitting 2 support tickets through the website. My questions related to reducing Malwarebytes’ performance impact and the answers were very similar — to adjust scan settings to minimize resource use and simplify some startup options. The answers I received were detailed so I was able to implement the right changes.

Price - 9

Malwarebytes has a similar price point to other top-tier antivirus programs but has far fewer features. Aside from the free version, Malwarebytes has 3 pricing options for home users. The most affordable plan protects only 1 device, but there are options to secure up to 5 devices simultaneously.

No matter which premium plan you choose, you get access to the full suite of Malwarebytes’ features — and a bonus VPN if you opt for the Premium+Privacy plan.

Malwarebytes Free — Only Includes Threat Scan for 1 Device

The free antivirus plan offered by Malwarebytes only has the Threat Scan feature which you can use on one device. It will detect and clean any existing malware on your device, but you won’t get any of the real-time protection vital to keeping your data secure. This plan isn’t full coverage at all, and I’d only recommend it if you’re also using another high-quality antivirus program like Norton or TotalAV.

Malwarebytes Premium For You — Most Affordable Plan

This plan includes all the features listed in this review (except for the VPN) at a very low cost. It’s a great option if you only need coverage for one device as it provides full real-time protection at less than half the annual price of the Premium for Home plan. If you have more than one device, you can transfer the plan at any time but you can only use it on a single device at once.

Malwarebytes Premium For Home — Best Value for Money

This is a family-style subscription and covers up to 5 devices, and I found it to offer the best overall value. It’s twice the price of the single device plan but since you can protect 4 additional connections, I believe it’s well worth the investment. When compared to a similar package from Norton that retails at around $40 per year (and Norton offers a bonus of 50GB cloud storage with its 360 Deluxe plan), Malwarebytes’s Premium for Home plan is a pricier option. You should note that this package doesn’t include the VPN.

Premium+Privacy Plan — Best for Families and Large Households

You’ll get coverage for 5 devices with every premium feature, as well as a bonus VPN. In the first year, you’ll pay the same price as the Premium for Home plan. However, the price increases by 50% for subsequent years.

Protect all your devices with Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes for Business — Customizable for Your Company Needs

Malwarebytes has 3 plans for enterprises:

  • For Teams: This is a basic but robust package that secures between 3 and 20 devices from malware and provides protection for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.
  • Endpoint Protection: Available for a minimum of 10 devices, this package is more comprehensive and protects against zero-day attacks with a multi-layered security approach. Also offers malware removal and incident response.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response: Provides automatic threat detection and protection from zero-day malware and viruses on 10 to an unlimited number of devices. It also guides your company’s security professionals through threat analysis and discovery to make the right decisions for your team’s safety.

I found it to be more expensive than Norton and McAfee, but Malwarebytes provides a more comprehensive security solution overall.

60-Day Money-Back Guarantee — Risk-Free Way to Try Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes offers a 60-day money-back guarantee, which is a long time for a money-back guarantee. In comparison, you’ll find that top-rated competitors like TotalAV and McAfee only have 30-day money-back guarantees.

I tested Malwarebytes’ money-back guarantee to see if it was truly risk-free — and I was surprised by the ease of the entire process. I didn’t even need to speak to anyone! I just had to send an email ticket request and I received a refund approval within 3 hours. The money returned to my bank account 8 days later.

Screenshot of Malwarebytes' refund process with an email response to a refund request ticket.

I had a response to my email ticket in less than 3 hours!

If you only need to use Malwarebytes for a short period of time, you can sign up for its free 14-day trial. Once the trial expires, you’ll automatically revert back onto the free plan (so all real-time security features are disabled). Personally, I believe the money-back guarantee is a much better “free trial” as you can test every premium feature for 60 days (rather than just 2 weeks).

Top Tip: Be careful when signing up for Malwarebytes via the Google Play store or Apple App Store. You’ll be subject to the store’s refund policy. In most cases, this means you’re not eligible for the 60-day money-back guarantee. Make sure you sign up directly through the Malwarebytes website.

Try Malwarebytes for free for 60 days!

Premium + Privacy
$8.33 per month
Premium 1 Device
$3.33 per month
You Save 60%
Premium 5 Devices
$6.67 per month
You Save 20%

Final Verdict

Malwarebytes’ free plan effectively detects and removes malware, but that’s where the protection stops. If you want round-the-clock protection for your device, the free plan isn’t enough to keep you safe — you’ll need to upgrade to the premium version.

I found that Malwarebytes Premium is a solid antivirus with an excellent malware detection rate during tests. It even comes with a bonus VPN, which performs better than most VPNs you’ll find in antivirus packages. It’s still not perfect though. I’d have liked to see more security features, like the password manager and parental control features provided by Norton 360 and TotalAV.

However, Malwarebytes Premium offers good protection at a very affordable price. It’s more basic than other antiviruses on the market, but it does the job well. To see whether it’s the right antivirus for you, I recommend you try Malwarebytes Premium with its 60-day money-back guarantee. It’s quick and easy to get a refund if you’re not satisfied (I had my money back in just 8 days).

Get Malwarebytes Premium for free for 60 days!

FAQ: Malwarebytes Antivirus

? Is the free version of Malwarebytes any good?

Malwarebytes’ free version is decent for a no-cost antivirus. You’ll be able to use the Threat Scan to check your devices for existing malware. Beyond that, it offers no real-time antivirus protection against new threats — which is an integral part of any antivirus! However, I don’t recommend relying on Malwarebytes’ free software alone as it doesn’t fully protect your devices from malware.

? Can Malwarebytes detect viruses, trojans, and spyware?

Yes, the premium version of Malwarebytes can detect all types of malware in real-time. This includes viruses, trojans, spyware, malware, ransomware, rootkits, keyloggers, and more.

? Does Malwarebytes work with other antiviruses like Norton?

Yes, Malwarebytes is compatible with all major antivirus software (like Norton 360 and TotalAV). In fact, I recommend you combine Malwarebytes with another antivirus program if you’re using the free version. Unfortunately, Malwarebytes’s free plan doesn’t protect against real-time cyberattacks, which is essential for keeping your device secure at all times.

If you don’t want to juggle multiple plans, you can always try Malwarebytes Premium with the 60-day money-back guarantee. This plan provides comprehensive antivirus coverage so you don’t need to enlist the help of other software.

Written by: Kate Hawkins
Kate Hawkins is a tech-focused writer and web expert with a keen interest in online security and privacy. She enjoys getting stuck into new technology and researching the latest cybersecurity trends to keep readers informed and safe online.
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