IObit Malware Fighter Pro

San Francisco-based IObit is best known as a popular developer of PC maintenance utilities, including IObit Uninstaller, Advanced SystemCare and Driver Booster.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro is the lead product in the company's security range, and has what looks like a capable feature set. It boasts both the IObit and Bitdefender antivirus engines, anti-ransomware capabilities, URL blocking, webcam protection, and more.

The headline price looks reasonable at $20 (£15.35), until you look closely, realize this includes a 50% discount for year one only, and renews at $40 (£30.70). That's well above average, especially for a product which isn't from a specialist antivirus provider.

A very limited free build allows you to get a basic idea of how the package works. But we do mean basic – the free version doesn't include the Bitdefender engine, has minimal real-time protection, can't prevent ransomware attacks during the boot process, and apparently can't even 'detect malicious processes running in RAM'. Which sounds like a fairly fundamental issue, to us.

IObit doesn't mention a trial on the main Malware Fighter page, but we found one available here. You must hand over your payment details, but won't be billed for 30 days, and can cancel at any time if you're unhappy.

IObit also offers a 60-day money-back guarantee, although the small print contains a lot of potential gotchas. The company says you won't get a refund if you've failed to read the product description, for instance, or have 'suddenly changed your mind.' It appears you can't just ask for your money back – you're going to have to persuade IObit that you've a good enough reason to escape its financial clutches.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro

Setup

Installing most antivirus packages is as easy as downloading and running the installer, and waiting a few seconds. Even the greenest of newbies can do it. However, it seems that IObit isn't convinced of this, and after ordering the trial build it suggested we call a toll-free US number where a 'certified technician' would securely connect to our PC and remotely activate the software. Is this really supposed to be easier?

Why would IObit even begin to think this was a good idea? Reading the small print explained what was going on. During the remote connection, IObit explained, 'at your request, we will diagnose your PC for other hard-to-identify problems. And paid service will be offered when needed.' It's just upselling for the company's remote support service.

If you'd rather not get involved with IObit's over-the-top marketing, wait a few seconds and an email should arrive with a download link and license code.

Setup was straightforward. We checked the files and folders and found executables from IObit and Bitdefender, all correctly digitally signed, with no obvious issues.

In a previous review we found that Malware Fighter's processes were poorly protected, and could be completely disabled by malware. There are still some issues, in that its user processes can be closed, even from something as simple as a batch file. But its core service couldn't be stopped, and we weren't able to change its Registry settings or delete key IObit files. Protection remained active and the IObit processes were running again after a reboot.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro

Features

IObit Malware Fighter Pro may be crammed with features, but its main console is simple and straightforward. There's a clear display of your security status, a large Smart Scan button, and a tiny toolbar on the left-hand side.

IObit's Smart Scan is the standard way to check your computer, and works its way through system areas, currently active processes, the Registry and key files. Scanning speeds have improved significantly since previous Malware Fighter editions, with the program now taking an about-average five minutes to check our test system.

Malware handling isn't as strict as usual. If a scan finds threats but you close the report without dealing with them, most packages continue to display a warning to remind you that there are unresolved problems. Malware Fighter doesn't care, and goes back to its regular 'Your PC is secure' status message.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro

Expert users who are 100% clear on why they've dismissed the report, and will definitely come back later to resolve the issue, might appreciate this lack of nagging. But for everyone else, allowing a threat to remain on the system, without any resolution or visible reminder, could well trip someone up later.

It wasn't possible to run scans in parallel. If you need to check a file from Explorer, for instance, you can normally right-click it, select Scan with IObit and get a report immediately. But if a Smart Scan was running, IObit simply switched to the Smart Scan window and left us waiting to get the results.

Malware detection was below average, with the package raising several false alarms. There's very little flexibility in how you can handle discovered threats, too. The Report screen allows you to remove a threat or ignore it for this scan, but there's no Exclude option to tell the program to also ignore it in future scans. To make this happen, we had to click Cancel > Settings > Whitelist > Add File, then browse to the file in question. Not what we'd call convenient.

An anti-ransomware engine allows only trusted apps to edit common user file types (Office documents, images, music, videos, archives and more). This caused some initial hassles – we couldn't unzip an archive until we'd manually whitelisted 7-Zip, even though it's one of the best-known and most trustworthy archiving apps around – but this super-strict approach may be able to stop even brand new ransomware.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro

An 'IObit Surfing Protection & Ads Removal' browser extension aims to block ads, highlight dangerous links in search engine results and prevent access to malicious sites. Other packages take a similar approach, but somehow IObit makes a horrible mess of the installation process.

Malware Fighter added extensions to Internet Explorer and Firefox on our test PC, and that made us think we were protected. But that was misleading, as our Chrome setup didn't have the extension added. Confusingly, the Browser Protect tab told us that Surfing Protection was off, even though it was working for us in Firefox and IE. And when we turned it on, we were told this could only be installed by manually adding it from the Chrome store.

We set up the extension anyway, but weren't too impressed. Ad blocking didn't match top add-ons such as uBlock Origin. The extension highlighted dangerous sites in our Google results within Chrome, but not Firefox. When we tried to access a site marked as dangerous, it told us the information was provided by 'Google and IObit', suggesting it may not offer much more protection than we'd get from Chrome alone. And there's no automated whitelisting, so if a URL is falsely flagged, you'll have to manually bypass the warning, each and every time.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro lists download scanning as a separate feature, which seems odd as it's included by default in most applications. It didn't appear to be effective, either. We were able to download simple test threats such as Eicar without any issue, even though when we manually scanned the files later, we were told they were dangerous.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro

There were other real-time protection issues, too. We were able to extract dangerous files from archives without them being detected, for instance, suggesting Malware Fighter isn't necessarily checking files as they're created. That may not be a fatal error – it can still pick up malware as it's launched – but it does mean you're missing a layer of protection you'll usually get elsewhere.

Elsewhere, a ‘webcam guard’ aims to stop ‘unauthorized programs’ accessing your webcam. Previously we've been able to use a test command line program to bypass this, capturing and saving a camera issue, but not this time. Malware Fighter noticed what we were doing, displayed an alert, and didn't allow the capture unless we specifically gave our permission.

Malware Fighter Pro has several other tools which work in the background. Homepage Protection prevents malicious changes to your browser home page and search engine, while anti-tracking clears tracking cookies when your browser closes, and DNS Protect makes it easy to set custom DNS servers, and prevents malware changing them. We didn't test these in depth, but they all have some value, and aren't the type of features you'll normally get with the competition.

IObit Malware Fighter Pro

Protection

IObit Malware Fighter Pro had average detection results in our tests, but some unexpected false positives – including a TaskKill file which is a standard component of Windows – let the package down.

Our tests are too small-scale to give a definitive picture of antivirus accuracy, so normally we would check how a product is reviewed by the major testing labs. Unfortunately, that's not possible here as IObit isn't covered by any of them.

We do know that Malware Fighter Pro includes the excellent Bitdefender engine, which is a definite plus. But it's not implemented in the same way as the original, and doesn't include the same level of real-time protection, so it's unlikely you'll get the same degree of malware-blocking effectiveness as with Bitdefender's own products.

Adding IObit's own engine may help protect you from even more threats, but we're unconvinced. It mostly raised false alarms for us.

With no information available from other sources, we decided to try an additional test of our own. We've developed a custom ransomware simulator which spiders through a specific folder tree on our test system, finding and encrypting potentially thousands of media and document files. Would Malware Fighter be able to protect against a threat it had never seen before?

The good news was that if we turned on IObit's generic Ransomware Shield (which is disabled by default), this displayed a warning when our simulator tried to access its first file. We were able to block it, and didn't lose a single file.

The not-so-good news is that the Ransomware Shield didn't highlight our simulator as malware, or make any attempt to remove it from our PC. And if we hadn't enabled the Ransomware Shield, the antivirus engine wouldn't have detected it at all. IObit still outperformed many other packages we've tested, and confirmed it can block some unknown ransomware threats, but there's clearly more work to be done.

Final verdict

IObit Malware Fighter Pro has a lengthy feature list, but some features don't work as expected, the core antivirus seems average at best, and there's no comparative scores available from the big testing labs.

Author: Marshmallow

Marshmallow Android is BT Ireland’s Head of Sales for Republic of Ireland domestic multi-site companies, indigenous MNCs and public sector accounts. He is responsible for the direction and control of all sales activity in the region. He has over 10 years management experience from high growth start-ups to more established businesses. He’s led teams in Ireland, India and China across various industries (ICT, On-Line Recruitment, Corporate Training and International Education).