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Microsoft Security Essentials: When it may not be a good fit

Security Essentials, Microsoft's antivirus software, is fast, reliable and free. But in certain situations, that's not enough.

Microsoft Security Essentials may protect non-enterprise users in your business -- but there are some caveats.

The product, intended for home or small-business use, is fast and free, and the latest tests by AV-Comparatives found that Microsoft Security Essentials had a 96.3% detection rate with very few false positives, even when compared with the leaders in the market like Symantec, Sophos and McAfee.

However, speed, price and detection rates are only part of the picture. When considering malware protection, it's also important to think about usability, compatibility and manageability.

In other words, just because you can useMicrosoft Security Essentials doesn't mean you should. Some reasons why Microsoft Security Essentials may not be a good fit include:

  • You need the greater control or the centralized management that third-party solutions or Microsoft Forefront Client Security offer.
  • You need greater visibility to prove the existence of malware protection for compliance and/or audit purposes.
  • The computers in question already have some form of anti-malware protection from the manufacturer. (Once installed, such measures are difficult to clean off.)
  • You have a good relationship with a third-party vendor that helps with volume pricing for malware protection.
  • You already have a system with a good management console and can't afford to step outside of that box.
  • There's a legal stipulation in a contract that states the business cannot dictate what type of computer hardware and software can be used on a consultant's, contractor's or independent agent's machine.
  • There's a general belief by management or legal counsel that telling people what software to run can be a liability for the business.

Using what you already have (or have ready access to) from one vendor make more than sense than creating a more complex environment with multiple vendors for security administration and information risk management.

Furthermore, there are a several less tangible things to consider. Not only is relying on one vendor such as Microsoft a potential single point of failure, it's also viewed by many as a case of the fox guarding the henhouse that could set your enterprise up for failure. Do you really want to trust your operating system vendor -- arguably the same vendor that has had so many malware-related problems for years -- to keep your systems secure? You may even have documented security standards or policies against such potential conflicts of interest.

You need to prepare yourself for judgment (justified or not) and subsequent questioning from users, clients, business partners, auditors, and even regulators and expert witnesses in a court of law as to whether or not this was the best fit for your environment -- especially if something goes awry. It likely won't come up, but you need to be ready to answer the critics if or when it does.

All of this said, Microsoft Security Essentials can be a viable malware alternative if your business model is conducive for personal or home-based small business usage.

Perhaps the most important thing is to never rely on a single layer of security to keep your information in and the malware out. Maintaining a secure Windows shop is much more complex.

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, keynote speaker and expert witness at Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. Having worked for himself over the past seven years, he specializes in performing independent security assessments and helping IT professionals enhance their careers. Beaver has also authored/co-authored seven books on information security including Hacking for Dummies and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies (Wiley). In addition, he's the creator of the Security On Wheels information security audio books and the Security on Wheels blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. Beaver can be reached at

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