IObit Advanced SystemCare Ultimate. That product didn’t do very well in my hands-on tests, but it outperformed IObit Malware Fighter. After testing the latest version of Malware Fighter, I’m still not sure why the company maintains both.‘ve always been a bit confused by the existence of IObit Malware Fighter Pro. I mean, the company has a completely different antivirus utility that’s bundled with a system cleanup tool as
One license costs $39.99 per year, the same as Bitdefender, F-Secure, Trend Micro, Webroot, and others. Admittedly, it seems to be perpetually on sale for $19.99. Kaspersky, Bitdefender, and others charge $59.99 for a three-license subscription, which is a good deal. But McAfee AntiVirus Plus beats them all on price, charging $59.99 per year for unlimited licenses on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
IObit does offer a free version of IObit Malware Fighter Pro, but it’s extremely limited. Just about every significant feature beyond the basic antivirus engine comes only in the Pro edition. Given the poor performance of Pro, I saw no reason to look at the less capable free version.
Getting Started With IObit Malware Fighter Pro
The product’s main window has a charcoal gray background, like what Bitdefender Antivirus Plus used in the past. And there is a Bitdefender connection; one of the Pro-only features involves running a licensed version of Bitdefender’s antivirus engine. The window has plenty of empty space. A status indicator dominates the middle, with a big scan button below. At the left is a vertical menu that just shows icons, sliding out full labels when you point to it. And a bar at the bottom shows you the status of the three protection engines, IObit’s antivirus and ransomware protection engines plus the engine licensed from Bitdefender.
Several important features aren’t enabled by default; you need to fix that. First, turn on the Bitdefender engine, which requires a reboot. Next, open the Browser Protect tab and turn on Surfing Protection & Ads Removal. You also must configure the component that protects files from modification by ransomware. Unlike the similar feature in Bitdefender, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, and others, this feature doesn’t come configured to protect any folders. I discuss that configuration step below.
Note that the last menu item, titled Action Center, is just an upsell page encouraging you to install other products, some from IObit, some from other vendors. For example, on one test system, the collection included Dashlane, adware Web Companion, and Aomei Backupper. Another installation offered to install Opera. Tools from IObit include an uninstaller, a disk defrag tool, and a utility to check for outdated drivers.
No Help From Independent Labs
Getting good scores in independent lab tests is important, but so is simply appearing in the lab reports. If a product appears in a test report, it means the lab felt it was worth evaluating, and the company felt it was worth funding the report. I follow tests from four labs, and all four include Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic, Kaspersky, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, and a few others. Malware Fighter, by contrast, appears in none of the lab tests.
Lab Test Results Chart
Kaspersky recently swept the field, with perfect scores in every test that I follow. Bitdefender missed that honor by a hair, down by a half-point in a single test. When I see results like that, I use my hands-on testing more to get a feel for the product than to rate its efficacy. With nothing from the labs, my tests are the only way I can see how well Malware Fighter works.
Poor Malware Protection Scores
I start my malware protection test by opening a folder containing a collection of malware samples that I gathered and analyzed myself. In most products, the tiny file access required to display the sample in Windows Explorer is enough to trigger a real-time protection scan. Bitdefender, for example, quickly wiped out 79 percent of the samples on sight.
I was surprised to find that even with Bitdefender protection enabled, Malware Fighter only eliminated 7 percent of the same samples. I checked with my contact at Bitdefender, who responded thus: “IObit includes some Bitdefender technologies, but not the full stack available to prevent all types of attacks. Also, it is relevant how the technology integration is done because the final output on how threats are handled is very specific to each product.”
The difference became more evident as I launched the remaining samples. IObit totally missed almost half the samples, allowing them to run rampant on the test system. Even when it did claim to quarantine the malware, it failed to remove executable malware files in several cases, and even left one supposedly quarantined threat running. In the end, it detected 54 percent of the samples and earned 4.1 of 10 possible points, the lowest score of any recent product.
Cylance, F-Secure, and Bitdefender detected 93 percent of these samples and scored 9.3 points. IObit’s own Advanced SystemCare managed 8.9 points against these same samples several months ago. Tested with my previous collection, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus and Norton scored a perfect 10.
The program did pop a warning about a few samples trying to configure themselves to launch at startup. However, I didn’t count this as detection, because it displayed the same warning about legitimate programs.
Malware Protection Results Chart
Unlike the independent lab researchers, analyzing malware isn’t my sole job. It’s just a task I must perform from time to time, and it’s laborious. As a result, I use the same samples for quite a while. To get an idea of how an antivirus handles the most recent malware, I use a feed of malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, choosing those discovered in the last day or two. For each URL that’s still valid, I record whether the antivirus kept the browser away from danger, pounced on the malware download, or failed to do anything.
The Surfing Protection feature’s stated aim includes protecting your browser from “various online threats,” suggesting it should prevent access to at least some of the nasty URLs. It did not. The antivirus jumped in to kill off many downloads, frequently wiping them out before I could even hit Save. But it only got 61 percent of them. Interestingly, while IObit Advanced SystemCare Ultimate did a lot better in the malware protection test, it, too, scored 61 percent against the malware-hosting URLs that were current when I reviewed it. And it, too, did all its work by analyzing downloads, none by blocking access to dangerous websites.
I checked with IObit, and my contact there expressed surprise that Surfing Protection didn’t steer the browser away from dangerous URLs. He requested some examples, so I submitted 60 URLs where Surfing Protection did nothing, but the local antivirus wiped out the malware download. It took a week to hear back from my IObit contact, who said that the company would concentrate on this part of the app and keep working to improve it.
The URLs for this test are different every time, but they’re always the most recent, and I use 100 or more to get a good sample. Bitdefender took down 99 percent of the samples in its latest test. Norton managed 98 percent, and Trend Micro came close with 97 percent. A score of 61 percent is very low.
Super Slow Scan
When you install an antivirus utility, you should always run a full scan at the start, just in case the system is already infected. After that, the real-time protection should keep out any new problems. Malware Fighter strongly encourages this initial scan. The status indicator on the main page won’t go green until you take care of that task.
I time each product’s full scan on a system without malware, because some products interrupt the scan and await user instruction when they find a threat. The average time for current products to complete a full scan is just under 50 minutes. Malware Fighter took more than two hours, making it one of the slowest, even slower than Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center, which took 90 minutes.
When your antivirus has an effective real-time protection system, you can figure that after that initial full scan you’re protected from further attack. Given Malware Fighter’s spotty real-time protection, I would suggest performing a full scan regularly, when you can spare the time.
Ineffective Phishing Protection
Because Malware Fighter didn’t block any malicious URLs, I worried at first that the Surfing Protection feature might have somehow become inactive. During my antiphishing test, I saw proof that it was alive and well. Or at least it was alive. It didn’t do well.
Phishing sites don’t include malicious code. Rather, they aim to trick unwary users into giving up their credentials for banking, gaming, even matchmaking websites. If you think you’re logging into PayPal, not noticing that the URL is wrong, you’ve given away your account. Sure, these frauds get caught and taken down, but they just pop up again with a new fake URL.
For testing purposes, I gather the newest reported frauds I can find, aiming to get ones that are too new to have been widely blacklisted. I launch each simultaneously in four browsers. The product under test protects an instance of Internet Explorer with phishing protection disabled; the other three use phishing protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. I aim for 100 verified phishing sites.
During the test, I could see that Surfing Protection was active. The status bar at the bottom, the one that reports URLs the browser is downloading, would go through a moment where it displayed “Waiting for extension IObit Surfing Protection.” Then the IObit browser extension icon would turn green. Clicking it revealed the message “This site is safe.”
Phishing Protection Results Chart
In fact, IObit reported every single verified phishing site as safe, even ones that all three browsers blocked. It earned an unprecedented 0 percent score in the antiphishing test. All three browsers did much better.
Recently, Kaspersky Anti-Virus also took an unprecedented score in this test, with 100 percent success. Bitdefender managed 99 percent, while Trend Micro and ZoneAlarm got 98 percent. Success is clearly possible; IObit demonstrates that utter failure is also possible.
Porous Ransomware Protection
IObit added ransomware protection to the previous edition of IObit Malware Fighter, and it performed reasonably well in my tests at that time. However, I’ve beefed up my testing since that time, and my current tests reveal some weaknesses in ransomware protection.
Like Bitdefender, Trend Micro, and others, Malware Fighter can block unauthorized access to your documents, images, and other files. But unlike the others, its list of protected folders is empty by default. If you don’t add Documents and other important folders, you don’t get full protection. In the previous review, I griped that the default settings failed to protect text files and various image file types. This time around, it checks the protection box for all the file types, for which I’m grateful.
For a sanity check on products that aim to block unauthorized file access, I use a simple-minded fake ransomware program that simply XOR-encrypts all text files in the Documents folder, and a very simple text editor, both of which I wrote myself. IObit Malware Fighter Pro correctly detected attempts by these programs to modify protected files and prevented them when I clicked Block.
Next came the big guns; testing with real-world ransomware. Normally I turn off real-time antivirus protection, simulating a situation where the ransomware is so new it doesn’t get caught. I couldn’t find a way to turn off all real-time protection with Malware Fighter, but it hardly mattered, because even with the Bitdefender engine turned on, it only prevented a third of my ransomware samples from running.
It did prevent the other ransomware samples from meddling with files in the Documents folder. However, I forgot to add Desktop, so one sample encrypted text files on the Desktop. Two ran unopposed and displayed their ransom demands. Oddly, IObit Malware Fighter Pro detected and quarantined one of the ransom-demand documents, while ignoring the ransomware program.
In my ransomware protection testing, I’ve encountered products that fail when ransomware launches at startup. To test that possibility, I moved my Petya ransomware sample into the startup folder. Malware Fighter did quarantine Petya when I simply launched it. But when it launched at startup, Petya successfully encrypted the entire virtual disk.
The best free ransomware-specific utilities are vastly more effective than Malware Fighter. CyberSight RansomStopper is our Editors’ Choice for free ransomware protection.
IObit Malware Fighter Pro includes a few bonus features, many related to browser protection. It prevents unauthorized changes to your home page, search engine, and DNS settings. Surfing Protection marks up search results to show safe and dangerous links. It also blocks ads on web pages; you can’t control ad blocking separately. Malware Fighter doesn’t block trackers the way AVG AntiVirus Free, Avira Antivirus, and others do, but it can delete tracking cookies each time you close the browser.
The Security Guard page offers a laundry list of protective features. It’s easy to see some of them in action. Startup Guard warns when a program tries to configure itself to launch at startup. USB Disk Guard offers to scan any USB drive you mount. Camera Guard offers an element of spyware protection, warning you when an unknown program tries to peer through your computer’s webcam. MBR Guard prevents changes to the Master Boot Record of your drives, foiling viruses that infect the MBR.
Others are more nebulous. Although Network Guard, File Guard, Process Guard, and Malicious Action Guard all sound useful, I couldn’t be sure of their exact function. A dial at left reflects protection status, but in truth, it only has three positions. With all guards active it shows full protection. With none active, it shows no protection. And with any number in between, it points straight up, half-protected.
You Can Do Better IObit Malware Fighter Pro
In the crowded field of antivirus protection, we’ve identified five distinct Editors’ Choice products, and two of them Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus sell for the same price as IObit Malware Fighter Pro. You do pay more for Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic and Kaspersky Anti-Virus for, but with Kaspersky, you get three licenses. And a subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus gets you unlimited cross-platform licenses. With these possibilities available, there’s just no reason to spend your money on IObit Malware Fighter.
In truth, our Editors’ Choice products for free antivirus Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, and Kaspersky Free all outperform IObit. All get good to excellent scores from the independent testing labs, and in our hands-on testing.