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Malwarebytes review: does the free version offer enough protection?


Malwarebytes Antivirus is one of the most popular tools for malicious software removal. While it may not be as feature-rich as some of the biggest antivirus suites on the market, Malwarebytes is a trustworthy and lightweight tool for occasional scans and real-time protection. And it's cheaper, too!

So, how good is this lightweight AV? In my Malwarebytes review, I’ll cover the features, test scores, and performance of both the Free and Premium versions to see which one fits your needs better.

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Malwarebytes review: pros and cons

Visit Malwarebytes to learn more about the features

Is Malwarebytes safe?

Malwarebytes is a safe antivirus service. Their advanced virus detection techniques and several security features protect against a garden variety of online threats. That said, it doesn't have an integrated firewall. Not to mention, the free version only has malware scans, and other features are locked behind a firewall.

It's worth mentioning that Malwarebytes were recently affected by a cyberattack. Some of their emails were breached by the same attackers responsible for the SolarWinds hack. So, some of their internal emails were leaked. That said, there is no evidence that any user data was compromised.

Independent Malwarebytes testing

Before you download any antivirus software, it is a good idea to not only read its reviews, but also check its independent testing results. After all, you don’t want your computer to become the test subject - that’s what testing labs are for.

For a long time, users couldn’t check out the virus detection results of Malwarebytes antivirus. That’s because the company decided to participate in AV testing only in late 2018. 

Their results weren’t stellar for some time, varying from 4 to 5.5 (out of 6) in the categories of Protection, Performance, and Usability. Shockingly, Malwarebytes scored only 2 out of 6 in the category of Protection in June 2019.

Malwarebytes virus tests

However, recently, their results have been improving. The new versions of Malwarebytes (4.2.0 and 4.2.1) scored a maximum of 6 points in Performance and Protection, and 5 points in Usability. 

It’s nice to see the improvement, especially when keeping in mind that Malwarebytes has managed to beat the industry average in virus detection. The antivirus program detected from 99.4% to 100% of zero-day threats and 100% of 4-weeks old malware. With results like these, you can be sure that your device is protected.

Security features

Even though Malwarebytes offers quite a few useful features, it is not as feature-rich as, say, Avast, McAfee or any other top antivirus software. For example, you won’t find Parental Control or a firewall in your Malwarebytes antivirus package. However, you won’t miss any crucial features like virus protection or file quarantine - in other words, Malwarebytes will simply act as decent, no-nonsense antivirus product.

There’s one more thing I want to mention in this Malwarebytes review. During installation, the program will ask you whether you want to install it on your home or work computer. Don’t worry about this choice - both versions are identical in terms of features. The only difference is priority customer support for business users, which is not such a big deal for most people.

Real-time protection

This is a feature that is only available with the Premium version of Malwarebytes - and it’s quite important, too.

Real time protection

You see, real-time protection is a background process that prevents various online threats (like viruses, malware, and ransomware) from entering your device. It uses minimal system resources and has virtually no effect on CPU usage.

The Real-Time Protection option of Malwarebytes antivirus includes Web Protection (that blocks infected websites), Malware Protection, Ransomware Protection, and Exploit Protection.

Exploit protection

Even though included in the Real-Time Protection list, the Exploit Protection feature deserves its own paragraph. That’s because this is an advanced security technique that deals with exploit attacks against security flaws and software vulnerabilities in applications.

These kinds of attacks are much sneakier than regular viruses, as they only require you to open an infected page or a file. Luckily, Malwarebytes Premium has you covered - it “shields” vulnerable applications so that malicious code couldn’t exploit their security issues. 

Three system scan modes

If you had Malwarebytes antivirus software on your computer a couple of years ago and decided to reinstall it, don’t be surprised by the scan mode changes. You see, Malwarebytes Version 3 had four types of scans: Full, Threat, Hyper, and Path.

However, Version 4 changed things up a bit. Now, we only have the Quick scan, the Custom scan, and the Threat scan. It seems that Malwarebytes simply adapted to the market and adjusted some of their scanning titles into more familiar ones.

Keep in mind that Malwarebytes can only run one type of scan at a time. For example, you cannot do a system scan and check a specific file for antiviruses. So, schedule them accordingly.

Malwarebytes scan options

Quick scan

Lasting up to a minute and using between 0,0 to 0,2% CPU, the quick scan of Malwarebytes scans your device’s memory and startup objects for active threats.

Threat scan

If you have Malwarebytes Premium, this scan will take place every single day. It will scan memory objects, startup objects, registry objects, as well as file system objects, and it will perform a heuristic analysis for better protection in the future. Keep in mind that this is not the same thing as a full scan - it doesn’t cover every single corner of your system.

Custom scan

If you desire, the custom scan can check your whole system. As a result, it may last a bit longer: the scan’s duration is strongly related to the number and size of files on your computer. The more there is, the longer it takes to scan everything. You can scan even for rootkits, which are among the most difficult malware to detect.

Malwarebytes custom scan

I like that no matter which type of scan you select, Malwarebytes will perform it very quickly with almost zero CPU usage. This makes it stand out among slower antivirus programs like McAfee.

On the other hand, I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of a dedicated Full scan. Although, those who prefer the DIY approach can set it up themselves. Users can modify how often the app updates its list of known malware, what the default scan should look for, and whether you want to use it as a primary or secondary antivirus. This goes as far as what actions will be performed PUP or PUM is detected. So, it can be tailored to your unique preferences.

Browser Guard

Malwarebytes Browser Guard is a free extension for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. It blocks ads and protects you against third-party trackers, malware, scams, and PUPs (potentially unwanted programs, e.g., browser hijackers).

Browser guard features

It comes together with your Malwarebytes antivirus software. However, you get the option to choose whether you want this extension installed or not. I like how Browser Guard is not shoved into your system without your consent and how clear the choice is presented to the user.

Quarantined files

When Malwarebytes antivirus finds an infected file on your device, it instantly neutralizes it by putting it in the quarantine section. However, if you are sure that the file is safe and that’s only a false alarm, you can restore it and bring it back to its original place.

You can even put the file on the Allow list. Then, Malwarebytes won’t target it during future scans.


Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy plan includes a VPN. It's actually one of the most impressive VPN packages coupled with an antivirus. The service covers 30 countries with 240 servers, which is a bit on the lower side compared to the dedicated VPN providers. Still, it should be plenty of places to connect to.

The VPN includes WireGuard tunneling protocol, which is all the rage right now among VPN services. Considering that not all dedicated VPN service providers have it included, it's really an achievement for Malwarebytes.

On top of that, their connection will be protected by 256-bit encryption. This means that no hacker will be able to brute-force through it. Not to mention that Malwarebytes doesn't leave any backdoors to your data with a strict no-logs policy.

Plans and pricing

In total, there are three different plans for Malwarebytes antivirus: the Free version, the Premium version, and the Premium + Privacy version. Let’s take a look at how they differ.

Malwarebytes FreeVirus scans$0.00
PremiumVirus scans, real-time protection, ransomware prevention, exploit protection$23.99
Premium + Privacy Virus scans, real-time protection, ransomware prevention, exploit protection, VPN$59.99

Malwarebytes Free

Once your 14-day Premium trial ends, you are left with the free version of Malwarebytes antivirus. Is it any good? Well, all it does is scanning your device and removing threats that are already there. 

In other words, it lacks one of the most important features of any antivirus software - real-time protection. Which means that you need another antivirus solution to protect you when browsing the web or simply doing your everyday tasks.

Of course, Malwarebytes Free is a good solution when your computer is already infected. And let’s get real - most free antivirus programs don’t offer real-time protection, so we shouldn't be too harsh on Malwarebytes.

However, in the future, I’d like to see more free features. Otherwise, Malwarebytes might not withstand the competition.

Malwarebytes Premium

Malwarebytes Premium is the full version of the software. You get a taste of it during your 14-day trial. Afterwards, you need to buy a yearly subscription if you want the program to continue protecting your device in real-time.

This edition includes everything covered in this Malwarebytes review: the different kinds of scans (including the daily Threat scan), all the Real-Time Protection features (Web, Malware, Ransomware, Exploit), as well as the possibility to get Device Alerts that warn you about security issues with your devices.

Currently, there is a discount for Malwarebytes Premium - it costs $23.99 a year (while the regular price is $39.99 a year). It covers only one device and is available for Windows, iOS, Android, macOS, and Chrome devices.

Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy

Finally, we have Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy. This version comes with a VPN, which will protect your privacy while browsing. 

Malwarebytes VPN

Their VPN is quite good - it offers over 30 countries, each having lots of different servers (240+ in total). 

Now, about the price. With a discount, this package of antivirus software and a VPN costs $59.99 a year (without a discount, you’d need to pay $99.99). In comparison to other antivirus programs, this is quite costly. I suggest you buy this edition only if you’ll surely use the program and the VPN.

By the way, keep in mind that right now the VPN is only available for Windows, macOS, and iOS - the versions for Android and Chrome will come in the near future.

Is Malwarebytes good value for money?

Malware branches out their offering, so you're getting budget option (which is free) and their paid options. The free version has a pretty amazing value, as you'll be able to start the essential clean up with only a free tool. As for the paid option, the subscription prices are on par with what you'll be getting from other service providers.

Ease of use and setup


Like the majority of antivirus programs, Malwarebytes is extremely easy to install. After a few clicks and a couple of minutes, you’re all set. Keep in mind that, during the installation process, Malwarebytes will ask you whether you want the Browser Guard extension.

Malwarebytes dashboard

At first glance, Malwarebytes looks quite simplistic. The dashboard displays the Virus Detection History, the Scanner section, and the Real-Time Protection features. To find more stuff, you have to dig a bit deeper. For example, to access different virus scans, you have to open the Scanner window and then click on “advanced scanners”. 

However, if you want to have more control over how Malwarebytes functions, you’ll have to go to Settings. For this, simply click the gear icon on the top-right corner of the screen. Here, you’ll see seven tabs, under which you can modify the program to your liking.

malwarebytes customization options

For example, you can disable notifications, turn on device alerts, choose from over 20 languages, and even select the program’s visual theme (light, dark, or default) and background image. I especially like the latter option, as it is quite rare in the world of antivirus software. 

All in all, in this Malwarebytes review, I can firmly say that the program’s user interface is really intuitive and easy to navigate - something that I’d expect from a popular brand like this.


Visually their macOS app looks quite similar. The malware scans are about as fast, so there are no strange performance drops just because the platform is different.

malwarebytes mac app

That said, the similarities end there. Apple users once again get a barebones version of what Windows users are getting. It does feature a Quick Scan and other means of malware protection, that's about it.

The only unique toggle included in the Mac version is the App block, which blocks untrusted apps from running in the background. Although Gatekeeper is included by default, I didn't notice any differences in functionality.

Malwarebytes mobile apps

Both Android and iOS have mobile apps. Although visually they look the same, the features that you get will be different.

android security audit malwarebytes

Android has a fully-fledged Malwarebytes scanning. It even tells you that you have Developer Mode, NFC, and Android Beam enabled. It generally isn't intrusive and doesn't restrict your usage if you don't give the app all the permissions that it asks.

However, they do tell you exactly how the permissions will be used and why they are needed. This is something that I'd like to see from more developers.

iOS only has protection against malicious URLs, unwanted callers, and text message filtering. So, as is often the case with iOS antivirus counterparts, it pales in comparison.

Customer support

If you encounter any problems while installing or using Malwarebytes, click the Help icon on the top-right corner of the dashboard. This will open a window with various links to program guides and frequently asked questions, as well as a download link for the support tool that will fix some of your issues automatically.

However, there is no direct link to contact a customer support agent. If you want to do that, you’ll have to click on the button that says “Malwarebytes Support”, press “Help” at the bottom-right corner of the screen, and type in your question. Then, the support bot will give you lots of FAQ links and an option that says “Get in touch”. It finally allows you to fill in a form, provide your email address, and start waiting for an answer (that might take a few days).

As you can see, the customer support department of Malwarebytes could use some support itself. I’d especially like to see a live chat option in the future, as waiting for an email reply might be a tad frustrating.

Video review

Malwarebytes video review

How good is Malwarebytes?

Malwarebytes is a decent antivirus tool. In comparison to its previous versions, it has greatly improved in terms of performance and virus detection rates. The current version will surely protect your device even from zero-day threats.

However, there are some downsides, too. Even though Malwarebytes is safe and good enough for an experienced user, those who are not really tech-savvy might struggle a little when encountering a problem. That’s because Malwarebytes is a bit limited in the customer support department, offering only email support and FAQ sections.

Also, the program is a bit pricey (especially if you consider the Premium + Privacy version). So, if I had to pick the best version, I’d go with Malwarebytes Premium. It is better than Malwarebytes Free in terms of safety (as it offers real-time protection), and it’s not as expensive as the Privacy suite.

More antivirus software reviews

Bitdefender review: why it's antivirus #1 in 2021

Norton 360 review: robust security with some extra features

Avira antivirus review: great anti-malware program for everyone

AVG antivirus review: can this free antivirus protect you?


If you didn’t find everything you want to know in this Malwarebytes review, check out our FAQ section for a quick answer.

William Skyner
William Skyner
prefix 24 days ago
Do they charge yearly and can I discontinue paying for a 2nd year
Rūta Rimkienė
Rūta Rimkienė
prefix 21 days ago
Hello! If you want to be charged yearly, you should buy a 1-year subscription. However, if you don't want to be automatically charged after the year ends, you must turn off the auto-renewal option before the end of your subscription period. To do this, go to your account and click on the Payments tab. Then click the pencil icon under Active Subscription. Lastly, click Turn Off.
Kat Lowe
Kat Lowe
prefix 1 month ago
For several years I enjoyed all the premium features offered to home users and found it far superior to anything I had tried. Sadly I was misinformed and made a schoolboy error in falling for a McAffee offer.
Within months I had a horrible infestation which compromised my bank account and stole my identity including a copy of my fingerprint. It had completely taken control of every function of the device and a crypto account, my personal email and any information complacency had led me to leave there. I am still being monitored by the bank fraud department for any suspicious activity.
That device is now located at the bottom of a deep body of water.
McAffee failed to detect a thing even after speaking with their team who were equally useless. Despite having paid for 2 years protection, they went the same way as the device and I immediately reinstalled malwarebytes.
They have been amazing and provided personal specialist support that completely checked the entire system of 2 devices. That kind of peace of mind is truly priceless. I have absolute faith in the current product and the VPN is really simple and effective too.
Thanyou to the people who made me feel safe again, at Malwarebytes.
prefix 4 months ago
I was reading the list of things that the premium version protects against but saw at the bottom that the protections with asterisks beside them, are only for Windows. That was the deal breaker for me. Everything I own is Mac.
Cathy Baumbusch
Cathy Baumbusch
prefix 5 months ago
Hmmm, I don’t know what the $23.99 pricing is because they charged me $30/mo for the real-time scanning…I did enjoy having the free version but definitely like the real time scanning.
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