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Malwarebytes Review (2021): Is the Free Version Good Enough?

Ranked 13th from 58 antivirus companies
Ranked 13th from 58 antivirus companies
Sophie Anderson
Sophie Anderson
Published on: May 7, 2021

Malwarebytes Detailed Expert Review

Several years ago, Malwarebytes was only useful as a scanning and cleaning tool for getting rid of malware. Back then, it had to be used in conjunction with another antivirus to ensure complete protection. This is still true for Malwarebytes’s free version — it’s a useful tool, but it’s only really good when used together with an active scanning antivirus program. The free version does not offer enough protection on its own.

That said, Malwarebytes Premium is a complete, secure, and highly capable antivirus, with real-time protection against all malware threats.

Malwarebytes has some of the best security features I’ve tested, scoring excellent detection and removal rates across all of my test malware. But there are a few things I don’t like, not the least of which is that the scanner was pretty aggressive in flagging legitimate files and programs as dangerous. This was annoying, but it’s definitely better to get false positives than false negatives!

Malwarebytes is also missing some important internet security features like a firewall, network scanning, parental controls, a password manager, and a VPN — these are all things that antivirus suites like Norton and McAfee provide for a similar price.

Overall, Malwarebytes is a good antivirus, offering some of the best protection out there (making it onto the list of the best antiviruses of 2021). You can get the free version after a 14-day trial of the premium version, and there’s a 60-day money-back guarantee to help you decide if it’s the right antivirus for you.

Overall Rank #13 out of 58 antiviruses
Firewall No
VPN Yes (with unlimited data)
Free Plan Yes
Pricing Starting at /year
Money-Back Guarantee 60 days
Operating Systems Windows, Android, Mac, iOS

Risk-Free for 60 Days – Get Malwarebytes (40% off)

Malwarebytes Security Features

Malwarebytes has evolved from a dedicated malware scanner to a fully-functioning antivirus with a full range of powerful features.

My tests were pretty conclusive — Malwarebytes is one of the best antiviruses for fighting all malware and maintaining proper virus protection. It had near-perfect detection rates, catching almost all of the malware and ransomware samples on my PC. This is just as good as other leading antivirus brands like Bitdefender and Kaspersky.

While I was impressed with the malware detection rates, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of additional security features. Antiviruses like Norton offer a lot more value for the money by including added features like a password manager, VPN, parental controls, anti-theft tools, and more.

That said, there are many reasons why you should consider using Malwarebytes.

Real-Time Protection

Malwarebytes Premium offers a really strong “Real-Time Protection” feature — looking for zero-day attacks and ransomware as well as potential vulnerabilities in a program or code that can be exploited by cybercriminals.

The Real-Time Protection feature uses 4 layers of simultaneous protection:

  • Malware protection
  • Ransomware protection
  • Web protection
  • Exploit protection

These four layers of protection are always running at the same time and provide the foundation of the software.

Note: Real-Time Protection is not included in Malwarebytes Free, and as such, I can’t recommend using the free version as a standalone antivirus. If you’re really looking for a free antivirus, check out our top Windows recommendations here and Mac recommendations here.

Malwarebytes also uses updated virus signatures and advanced behavior (heuristic) analysis to detect potential threats.

Signature-based detection — which uses unique sets of data and bits of code to target viruses that have infected other devices — accounts for just around 5% of all of Malwarebytes’s detections.

Instead, in addition to the four layers of Real-Time Protection, Malwarebytes relies heavily on its heuristic analysis — looking at a program’s relevant factors like structure and behavior to identify and neutralize previously unknown malware and viruses.

This is a really great system that sets Malwarebytes apart from competitors. While most antiviruses have some kind of real-time protection and heuristic analysis, the fact that Malwarebytes prides itself so heavily on these features (and the fact that these features work really well) turns it from “just another security feature” into an amazing defense against intrusive malware.

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Multiple Scanning Options

Malwarebytes offers 3 different scan types:

  • Threat Scan
  • Custom Scan
  • Hyper Scan

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Malwarebytes has 3 scan types:

  • Threat Scan. Checks areas most likely to be infected, such as your device’s startup, memory, and registry.
  • Custom Scan. Allows you to choose which areas of your system need to be checked.
  • Hyper Scan. Quickly checks memory and startup objects for malware.

One thing I noticed when testing Malwarebytes was how fast the scanning engine was. The Threat Scan was so much faster than other big-name antiviruses like McAfee and Panda, taking just over 10 minutes to complete. And I really liked how the Hyper Scan only took around 10 seconds!

The Threat Scan flagged over 200 items on my device, even though most of them were legitimate pieces of software. Although this could be annoying at first, I would actually prefer if other antiviruses were as cautious as Malwarebytes to ensure that no threats are missed. This hypervigilance is the scanning engine’s way of learning what is and what isn’t a threat, which helps enhance the accuracy of future scans.

I used the Custom Scan to scan the folder of malware samples that I had downloaded, and it managed to detect all-but-one of the samples — similar results to Kaspersky and Avira.

A diagram displayed the scan’s progress, so I could see exactly where the scan was each step of the way. This is a unique way to show the user how the scan is going — most other programs just show the number of scanned files. All scans end with a “heuristics analysis” of all running processes, which uses a special algorithm to determine if there are any hidden malware files running in the background.

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Automatic Virus and Program Updates

Malwarebytes collects samples of suspicious software from its users’ systems, which is analyzed and used to create daily updates. You can opt-out of this data collection by toggling off “Usage and Threat Statistics” in Settings.

The Premium version of Malwarebytes updates every hour. You can change the frequency of updates to any interval between 15 minutes and 14 days, which is a great customization option that many other antiviruses like Avast don’t have.

Malwarebytes Free users have to check for updates manually — this, again, is why I don’t recommend the free version as a standalone antivirus.

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Browser Guard

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Malwarebytes offers additional ransomware protection and adware blocking support in the form of a browser extension. It blocks dangerous websites that have been identified as malicious and prevents you from visiting scam sites. It also claims to offer a browsing experience that is “4x faster” because of its adware blocking capabilities.

When I tested it out, it definitely felt like my browsing was faster, though, I’m not entirely convinced this was due to the extension. It didn’t feel “4x faster”, and it wasn’t particularly faster than my normal ad blocking extension.

Still, it’s a great extension to have, and it’s got a nice interface with a statistics page which tells you how many ads have been blocked.

The one annoying thing about this is that you have to download the extension separately. I would’ve preferred if it came included with the software, but it’s not a dealbreaker.

And it only works on Chrome and Firefox. Granted, these are the two most used browsers, so that isn’t going to cause too many problems. Still, supporting more browsers would be nice to see.

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Malwarebytes Plans and Pricing

Malwarebytes has a good selection of plans. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an individual, a family, or a business, Malwarebytes has a package to suit just about every user.

There’s a 60-day money-back guarantee for all new users, which is really generous. That said, the refund policy doesn’t apply to business plans and renewal subscriptions. And Malwarebytes’s mobile products purchased through Google Play or the Apple App Store are subject to each store’s refund policies.

Free Plan: Malwarebytes Free

Malwarebytes doesn’t really offer a free version of its antivirus. The free download gives you a free 14-day trial of the Premium package which is a great way to see if you like using the software. It’s basically a marketing ploy to get you to recognize how good the paid version is vs. the free version.

Malwarebytes Free doesn’t come with any of the Real-Time Protection features, which as I mentioned, is the core of the software. Once the 14-day trial expires, you’re just left with the Threat Scan feature which can only detect and clean one device already infected with malware. The Threat Scan is fine if you’re using it in conjunction with another antivirus like Avira or Norton, but on its own, you’re simply not protected.

Paid Plan: Malwarebytes Premium

Malwarebytes Premium gives you Real-Time Protection — it stops viruses and malware from infecting your device using heuristic analysis and the four layers of simultaneous protection.

There are 2 different packages Premium for You and Premium for Home. The only difference between the two is the price tag and the number of devices covered.

Premium for You is available on just 1 device and is cheaper.

Premium for Home covers up to 3 devices — but you can add up to 10 devices for an additional cost. The more devices you select, the bigger the discount you get.

With the Premium for Home plan, you can mix and match Windows, macOS, Chrome OS, iOS, and Android. This makes it a particularly good option for families using many devices across many different operating systems.

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Enterprise Plans: Malwarebytes Business

Malwarebytes’s business plans have advanced features — including application hardening and exploit mitigation, both of which make it difficult to compromise apps.

There are 3 different business plans — Malwarebytes for Teams, Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection, and Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection and Response. 

Malwarebytes for Teams — compatible with Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, and Android — is the cheapest. It covers between 1 and 20 devices and is therefore ideal for small businesses. The only difference between this version and the personal plans is priority support and additional Android protection.

Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection — only for Windows devices and Macs — covers from 10 devices up to an unlimited amount of devices. This plan gets you everything in Malwarebytes for Teams as well as centralized cloud management, security policies, and a dedicated technical account manager.

Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection and Response — on Windows only — adds on endpoint detection and response (EDR) capabilities.

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Malwarebytes Ease of Use and Setup

Installing Malwarebytes is incredibly easy. Just open the downloaded file, follow the prompts, and that’s it. Installation took under 3 minutes from download to first opening the dashboard. There are no unnecessary files, sneaky offers, or anything suspicious — I didn’t need to give my email or install any additional components to use all of the features.

The software package is under 250 MB. It’s a surprisingly light program given most other antivirus packages on the market can go up to and above 1 GB.

At first glance, the dashboard looks complex, but it’s actually very intuitive and easy to navigate.

When you first open the program, you’re immediately asked to scan your device.

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On the left-hand side of the central console, there’s a column with 5 categories:

  • Dashboard
  • Scan
  • Quarantine
  • Reports
  • Settings

“Dashboard” is pretty self-explanatory — it brings you to the main page of the app. “Scan” is where you run and schedule scans.

If Malwarebytes identifies potential threats during a scan, it sends them to “Quarantine”. From there, you can either delete or restore them.

“Reports” shows you a list of all the scans you’ve run to date. Clicking on a particular scan brings up a quick summary.

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If you click on Advanced within “Reports”, you’ll see more details — such as the number of items scanned, whether the scan was manual or scheduled, the time elapsed, and threats detected.

Press the Export button to copy the report to the clipboard or a text file for future reference.

If you want to customize the program, you can do so via the Settings sidebar, which Malwarebytes divides into 6 tabs:

  • Application
  • Protection
  • Scan Schedule
  • Exclusions
  • Account Details
  • About

Under “Application” you can pick your language, select a proxy server, and toggle application updates and notifications On or Off. You can also choose the impact that scans have on your system — high priority scans finish more quickly, but low priority scans improve multitasking.

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You can click on the Protection tab to customize scan settings. Users may wish to enable rootkit scanning (which is disabled by default), as well as malware scanning, ransomware scanning, and exploit protection.

You can also turn off scanning for Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) and Potentially Unwanted Modifications (PUMs) if you want to conserve CPU resources.

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There’s an option to restore default settings under both “Application” and “Protection”. Most antivirus programs hide this function, so I really like that Malwarebytes makes it easy to find.

“Scan Schedule” allows you to manage scheduled scans. You can also access this tab via the Scan sidebar.

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“Exclusions” is where you can exclude specific files or folders, websites, applications that connect to the internet, and previously detected threats from scans.

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“Account Details” shows you the plan you’re currently running, and “About” gives version information and has links to useful resources, such as Malwarebytes’s website and blog, customer support, and user guides.

On the right-hand side of the central console, you’ll see the 4 Premium features:

  • Web protection
  • Exploit protection
  • Malware protection
  • Ransomware protection
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On the bottom right-hand side of the dashboard, there’s a panel that shows scanning activity. You can see the date and time of the last completed scan, scheduled scans, and the status of your system updates.

Overall, setting up and using Malwarebytes is super simple. The installation process is a breeze, and navigating the software is easy. I had no trouble finding key features or figuring out how they worked.

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Malwarebytes Mobile App

Downloading the Malwarebytes mobile app from Google Play or the Apple App Store is simple and takes just a few minutes. There’s an app for both Android and iOS devices, but they offer different features.

The Android app scans your phone for potentially unwanted programs and advanced malware threats like ransomware. If the scan finds a malicious app, you have 3 options:

  • Ignore
  • Delete
  • Whitelist

Also, the Android app runs a privacy audit for all your apps, showing you a list of apps that can read your personal info, control your hardware, cost you money, etc. This feature lets you decide whether a specific app is worth the potential risk or not.

Both the Android app and the iOS app scan for phishing URLs and other online threats when you browse the internet. The iOS app also blocks ads and ad trackers, which is one reason why Malwarebytes offers great spyware protection.

Unlike the Android app, the iOS app has a “Call Protection” feature that blocks calls from known and suspected scammers and a “Text Message Filtering” that sends suspicious texts to a junk tab in your messages.

Neither the Android app nor the iOS app includes anti-theft tools, which is disappointing. Most experts agree that the biggest threat to mobile devices is device loss or theft. Other companies, like Norton, do more to protect your mobile devices against theft.

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Malwarebytes Customer Support

Malwarebytes’s customer support is a bit disappointing. While the company offers live chat support (Monday to Friday 8am to 11pm UTC), the live chat function isn’t consistent. Most times I tried it, I received the message that Malwarebytes representatives aren’t currently available.

I was able to get through once, however I had to wait an hour before an agent was free and available to help me. But he was quick and professional, and he answered all of my questions.

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The only other option for contacting a customer representative is through an email support system, but the response times aren’t great. I submitted a query on a Thursday evening and did not get a reply from a customer service agent until the following Wednesday.

There’s also a community forum for posting questions and a user’s guide page with several videos and how-to articles, and both of those things are actually pretty helpful.

That said, it would be nice if Malwarebytes were more responsive to their customers’ needs.

Is Malwarebytes a Good Enough Antivirus?

At first I was really skeptical that Malwarebytes would be a good program, especially after reading some of the outdated reviews online. But Malwarebytes has a lot going for it. I’ve tested a lot of different antiviruses, and Malwarebytes offers strong protection inside an interface that is easy to use and navigate. The pricing structure is straightforward, and it has a lot of different plans to meet a lot of different needs. Yes, they need to work on their customer service, but the most important thing is the product, and I’m very satisfied with their strong defense against cyber threats.

However, Malwarebytes Free isn’t enough to protect your device — the core of the Malwarebytes software is Real-Time Protection, and that’s only available on the Premium plan. If you’re in the market for a decent free antivirus, check out Avira or Panda, but Malwarebytes Premium will keep you much more protected than any free antivirus ever could.

If you need a solid antivirus with powerful anti-malware capabilities and a proven track record, Malwarebytes Premium is a really good choice.

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Will the free version of Malwarebytes protect my device?

In a word, no. The free version of Malwarebytes is okay for a freeware antivirus — you’ll be able to scan your device for malware like most other antivirus software. However, the free version of the software won’t protect you in real-time as the Premium package will.

Malwarebytes Free is OK when used in conjunction with another antivirus software. Still, for full protection against malicious cybersecurity threats, I’d highly recommend that you upgrade to one of the paid plans. You can try Malwarebytes Premium free for 14 days to see if it’s the right program for you.

If you need a free antivirus, check out this article.

How do I activate the premium version of Malwarebytes?

Once you’ve purchased Malwarebytes Premium, launch Malwarebytes and click on Activate license (located on the top-right of the dashboard).

You’ll be prompted to enter your license key. If you’re a Windows user, you may have been provided with a License ID. If so, click the toggle next to “My license came with a License ID” and input your License ID. If you haven’t been given a License ID, don’t click the toggle.

Proceed to enter your license key into the box located below “License Key”. Once entered, you can click on either Activate (Windows users) or Activate License (Mac users).

Mac users may be asked to allow Malwarebytes to enable real-time protection. In this instance, simply click the Turn Protection On button.

Once your Malwarebytes Premium license has been activated, you should see the word “Premium” next to the Malwarebytes logo.

Will Malwarebytes scan my device automatically?

Malwarebytes will scan your device for cybersecurity threats automatically. If you navigate to the settings and click the Scheduled Scans tab, you can choose when and how often Malwarebytes scans your device — including every hour, daily, monthly, and more.
You’ll also have the option to schedule multiple scans, choose whether the scans quarantine malware automatically, and if the scans ignore potentially unwanted programs (PUPs).

What are the system requirements for Malwarebytes?

To install the latest version of Malwarebytes (version 4), you’ll need to have installed:

  • OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) or higher.
  • Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 or higher.
  • Chrome OS with Google Play access.

Mobile users will need:

  • Android 4.4 (KitKat) or higher.
  • iOS 11 or higher.

For the older version of Malwarebytes (version 3.9.32), you’ll need to have:

  • OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) or higher.
  • Windows XP (32-bit) with Service Pack 3 or higher.

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Malwarebytes Products & Pricing

Bottom Line

Malwarebytes is a great antivirus program with powerful anti-malware capabilities. It doesn’t offer a lot of extra features, and the customer support leaves much to be desired. Malwarebytes Free is not good on its own, but the four simultaneous layers of Real-Time Protection help make Malwarebytes Premium one of the best antiviruses out there.

About the Author

Sophie Anderson
Sophie Anderson
Cybersecurity researcher and tech journalist

About the Author

Sophie Anderson has spent the last 10 years working as a software engineer for some of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley. She now works as a cybersecurity consultant and tech journalist, helping everyday netizens understand how to stay safe and protected in an online world.

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Malwarebytes User Reviews

23 34
Based on 57 reviews in 11 languages 5.5
You can trust the Community! Companies can't ask us to delete or change user reviews.
Feb. 12, 2021
Gucci G
Gucci G
Mac User
i had a "yahoo virus", the virus was deleted within a few minutes
Malcolm Hayter
Malcolm Hayter
United Kingdom
Great product
iOS User
Not a single infection of any type in the 5 years I have used Malwarebytes across 8 PCs and laptops.
I have now added Malwarebytes Privacy (VPN) to 5 PCs and laptops.
United Kingdom
Premium for Home no longer available (at least in UK)
Windows User
I see this review was written on 12 Sept 2020. Today (14 Sept) I got a renewal notice for MalwareBytes. I've used it for 6 or so years with no problems and quick support when I needed it (rarely).

Last few years I paid £20 to cover 3 devices. Today following the renewal link I was offered £30 for 1 device, £40 for 2, £50 for 3 and £70 for 5 devices. The public website just offers just £30 for 1 and £70 for 5 devices. It is getting rather expensive and they are offering nothing to loyal customers.

I've been a PC user for 40 years and I've seen many software companies with good products grow to the point they think they can milk their customers, usually accompanied by poor support and bloatware products full of ads.

I do have a separ...Show More
Terry P.
Terry P.
United States
Popups to sell you other Malwarebytes packages means I won't be renewing
Windows User
You need a popup blocker for Malware Bytes. I bought the PREMIUM product, not using the FREE version. So there is NO REASON I should be subjected to their constant popup abuse. They need to FIRE the whole team who came up with the idea to basically SPAM their own user base. The software itself it so-so. I agree with a lot of the negative comments posted by others and won't rehash them.
Its Very Own Uninstaller does not work !
Windows User
I could not uninstall malwarebytes!,,,, I tried windows control panel add/remove programs nothing, I tried Kaspersky program shredder which is usually very good removal tool nothing. I even tried Malwarebytes very own uninstall which came with malwarebytes and it could not remove it ! ,,,, I went searched internet and found malwarebytes forum posters being told by malwarebytes that it was because there admin rights was set wrong ,, ,well my admin rights are set same as always, i have never had an issue uninstalling other programs as did the posters on malwarebytes forums... .... malwarebytes forum monitors directed posters to one of their "Other" tools to download to remove their software...and that did the trick !
Why do they even bother ...Show More
United States
Windows User
Malware bytes is DANGEROUS to your PC. It is also UNreliable. The default settings are highly questionable (What sane malware scanner has Rootkit scanning turned OFF by default?)! I purchased the licensed version of MalwareBytes several years ago. I’ll explain these SERIOUS PROBLEMS. The licensed versions run on (3) computers at the office. EVERY TIME the software updates to a new version, the update FAILS and must be REMOVED and reinstalled with license key information. This process is beyond the scope of the other office people so the IT person (me) must be the one to do the UN/Install. That takes unnecessary time – during which MWB is non functional. However, much worse is a recent development where MWB asks you to install the latest ver...Show More
United Kingdom
Good customer service
Android User
I had some difficulty installing Premium, after recommendation from my bank. I just succeeded in getting the basic version, probably because I did not follow precisely the instructions, or they were not clear, who knows now. (I am 68 years old and not too savvy with modern software loading etc). I contacted customer service by email for advice on getting Premium loaded. Not expecting a quick reply I was impressed with speedy reply within a couple of days. The email reply contained simple to follow instructions with pictures, and dialogue was personalised and friendly. Within seconds, following instructions I had Premium version installed.
United Kingdom
Windows User
When I installed this it disabled all my windows antiviruses and i cant turn it on now
Windows User
Lousy service though it can catch intrusions that BITDEFENDER will ignore. Too expensive !
Fast and Efficient!
Mac User
It took me about 2 hours to find this holy software. It was THE ONLY ONE who could find the malwares, incredible! I tried 4 antiviruses before and obviously i ended up in mackeeper...thanks god they tried to scam me quickly, so i could find malwarebytes and be free again.

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