Emsisoft is a New Zealand-based company which has been providing antivirus solutions since 2003, and now has products covering everything from regular home users to demanding business types via its Enterprise Console.
Emsisoft's baseline product is Anti-Malware Home (opens in new tab), a capable offering which uses two engines (Bitdefender's and Emsisoft's own) to detect and block viruses, ransomware, 'potentially unwanted programs' and more.
The package is available in a free (for non-commercial use) version, which gets you on-demand scanning, but no real-time protection, and manual updates only.
The commercial edition adds multiple real-time protection layers - anti-ransomware, behavior monitoring, blocking of phishing and other malicious URLs - along with automatic updates, and remote management from a web-based console.
- You can sign up for Emsisoft Anti-Malware Home here (opens in new tab)
The major new feature since our last review is the addition of Emsisoft Browser Security (opens in new tab), a lightweight extension for Chrome, Firefox and Edge which enables blocking access to malicious and phishing websites.
Other changes are mostly just low-level engine tweaks, although there are a few more visible small additions. The console now displays your firewall status, for instance, and a Network Lock feature blocks all network access at a click.
Emsisoft Anti-Malware Home is priced from $30 for a one-computer, one-year license.
There are steep discounts as you add devices and extend your subscription. For example, a three-computer, three-year license costs $120, or $13.33 per device year.
These look like fair prices to us. For comparison, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 is a little more expensive at $40 for a one-computer, one-year license, for instance, and an identical $120 for three computers and three years. Meanwhile, introductory discounts make Kaspersky Anti-Virus (opens in new tab) look cheap, but it really isn't; a three-computer, three-year license costs $72 for the first term, but $180 on renewal.
If you're interested, installing Emsisoft Anti-Malware Free gets you a trial of the full package for the first 30 days, no credit card details required, and there's also a 30-day money-back guarantee as extra protection.
After handing over our email address, the Emsisoft Anti-Malware trial was easy to download, and installed with surprising speed. There's no waiting around while a progress bar grinds oh-so-slowly onwards – it's finished almost immediately.
One of the reasons is probably that Anti-Malware is very compact. We found its Program Files folder required around 750MB of disk space, but around 610MB of that was signatures, leaving a minimal code overhead.
We browsed the files anyway, but couldn't see any issues. There was none of the cluttered mess of executables we often see with smaller providers: files were all digitally signed, with just a few key third-party components like OpenSSL and the Bitdefender engine, and they all appeared to be well-protected from attack. This isn't a package which malware can easily disable.
After installation, Emsisoft Anti-Malware asked us to install its Browser Security extensions (opens in new tab) for Chrome, Firefox and Edge, very simple addons which detect and block access to malicious and phishing websites.
These extensions aren't required for Anti-Malware to work, and the file and behavior monitoring layers should detect and block any threats you might download because you don't have them installed.
The add-ons and simpler and more lightweight than most similar tools, though, and can be used for free without having to install Anti-Malware. Check the Emsisoft blog link above for more, or check out the Chrome version (opens in new tab) on the Chrome web store.
Emsisoft Anti-Malware has no significant bonus features, but somehow its interface still manages to be even more cluttered than most full-strength suites.
There are four colored tiles titled Protection, Scan and Clean, Logs and Settings, for instance, along with eight shortcut links, nine sidebar icons, assorted status indicators and others. Clicking any of the tiles displays further panels stuffed with options, and scrolling down reveals even more elements to explore.
This doesn't necessarily make the program difficult to use. If you're not technically inclined, you can ignore most of the options, and just click Scan and Clean > Quick Scan to run a basic malware check, or Logs to review what's happened recently.
The real value here, though, is for more experienced users who'll appreciate Emsisoft Anti-Malware's extreme configurability. You can set up custom scans, for instance, defining exactly what they'll check and the low-level technical detail of how they check it.
And a hugely flexible scanner enables running your scan type at a specific time or interval, during defined hours (every hour between 9am and 5pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays), or on a system event (when Windows starts, or after you've plugged in a USB key).
That's just the start. The URL filter can be extended with your own rules, or by importing your HOSTS file. You can precisely define when files are scanned, set up email notifications if malware is detected, customize when and how the program runs updates, decide which program events generate notifications, and control which user accounts are able to access Anti-Malware (great for stopping the kids changing your settings).
Although we appreciate this power, the layers to the interface sometimes make it awkward to navigate. For instance, having a Logs panel on the front page might make you think it's easy to get a look at exactly what happened during, say, the last-but-one scan. But the reality is a little different.
Click Logs and you get a complicated event log of all recent events, not just user actions. Scroll down to find the scan and you'll see items for both Scan Start and Scan Finish. Double-clicking Scan Finish displays a scrolling list of basic actions, without any of the results.
You might give up at this point, but if you scroll to the bottom of that list, you'll see a 'View the detailed Scan log' which finally gives you all the information you need. Once you've learned your way around, this isn't difficult to do, but it doesn't feel particularly natural or intuitive, either.
You probably won't spend much time navigating the interface, of course, and in regular real-world use the program performed reasonably well. Quick Scans checked running processes in around 20-30 seconds, and a more capable Malware Scan examined all our common infection points in around 15 minutes, while both scan types picked up all our sample threats.
The new Chrome, Firefox and Edge Emsisoft Browser Security browser extensions offer an as-simple-as-it-gets way to block malicious and phishing websites. They don't try to do anything clever, like highlight dubious websites in your search results; they just block suspect URLs when you try to access them, and enable adding them to a whitelist if a site is falsely flagged. That's it.
Overall, Emsisoft's URL filtering seems to have improved, with the program catching a reasonable 70% of our test URLs, up from less than half last time.
The Chrome browser extension (opens in new tab) didn't seem entirely reliable, though, repeatedly crashing when we visited a particular site. We're unsure why, though, and that shouldn't put you off trying it out (it's simple, free, and you don't need Anti-Malware to use it.)
An Emergency Kit Maker enables creating a portable Emsisoft setup which you can save to a USB key and use to disinfect other computers. This is probably as basic as a recovery setup can be – it's just a couple of Windows executables – and so can't begin to match the power of a bootable recovery environment. But if you do have a second PC which has become infected, you'll probably be glad it's there.
If you expect your antivirus to throw in a bundle of extras, Emsisoft will leave you disappointed. There's no password manager, secure deletion tool, system optimizer or anything else. It makes for a short feature list, but as this kind of bonus feature rarely competes with the best-of-breed freeware, we don't think it's a deal-breaker.
While we run some malware detection tests during reviews, they can't compete with the large-scale efforts of the independent antivirus testing labs. Comparing and combining our results with their reports is usually the best way to get the big picture.
Unfortunately, Emsisoft Anti-Malware isn't covered at the moment by comparative tests from any of the major labs. It's not in the list for either AV-Test or SE Labs, and the package disappeared from AV-Comparatives real-world protection tests in 2019. (Although, if you're interested in the history, Emsisoft ranked in the bottom half of the list for most of second half of 2018.)
There is some good news out there, though, if you go looking. VirusBulletin's VB100 certification is about achieving a minimum standard more than comparing engines against another, but it's still not easy to win, with products needing to detect at least 99.95% of the test samples and have a false detection rate of no more than 0.01%. VB100 test results appear every two months, and as we write, Emsisoft Anti-Malware has been certified in five tests out of five.
We did run a small test of our own, using a custom ransomware simulator we've developed to encrypt an entire folder tree of media and document files. As this was our own tool, we knew that Emsisoft was most unlikely to detect it from the file signature alone, making the test an interesting assessment of Emsisoft's behavior monitoring.
Unfortunately, our simulator was able to run to completion, encrypting thousands of documents without Emsisoft noticing that anything that was going on.
Our test threat wasn't real malware, so we can't be entirely sure why it was missed here. Emsisoft could argue that it wasn't malicious, Anti-Malware made the correct decision in allowing it to run. (Keep in mind that legitimate archiving and security programs might take some ransomware-like actions by encrypting documents.)
Still, we have had much more success with other antivirus vendors. Bitdefender not only detected what was happening and killed our test process, it also recovered the small number of files the malware had managed to encrypt.
Emsisoft Anti-Malware is a capable package and experts will love the high level of configurability. It doesn't quite have the features, speed or ease of use to justify buying it ahead of the big-name antivirus competition, but the free version could still be a decent second-opinion scanner.
- We've also highlighted the best antivirus software in this roundup