Microsoft Safety Scanner, Free On-Demand Virus Scanner

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 14, 2011
Updated • Mar 25, 2018
Microsoft, Windows software

Microsoft has released a program called Microsoft Safety Scanner, a free on-demand virus scanner for the Windows operating system.

The program's main task is to run a virus scan on a Windows system; an on-demand scanner that acts as a second-option scanner to find threats that resident antivirus solutions did not detect at all or improperly.

The core difference to conventional antivirus software is that it scans the PC but does not add protection to the operating system at the same time.

Microsoft Safety Scanner

microsoft safety scanner

Most users will probably use the on-demand scanner to verify that the operating system is clean of viruses and other forms of malware. The major benefit of this approach is twofold:

First, that you may run Microsoft Safety Scanner next to any installed antivirus or security software on a PC running Microsoft's Windows operating system. The option to do so is obviously better than having to uninstall one antivirus program to run another, as there are often incompatibilities or problems involved when running multiple virus scanners on a system.

The second benefit is the ability to scan the system for malicious software without having to configure the program, or making sure that it is up to date. The software uses virus information from Microsoft's Malware Protection center.

Microsoft Safety Scanner has been designed with simplicity in mind. The program can be started right after downloading or transferring it to a Windows PC. Only the depths of the scan needs to be selected, everything else is handled automatically by the application.

You can run a quick scan, full scan or customized scan. A quick scan will check sensitive areas of the operating system for malicious code like viruses, spyware or computer worms.

A full scan on the other hand will scan every single file plus the memory and the Registry. A custom scan finally scans a user selected folder or drive.

There are a few things that you need to know before you download and run the application.

microsoft security software

Microsoft Safety Scanner is an on-demand scanner, which means that it is no replacement for active virus protection on the system. It's aim is to provide additional means to scan a system, nothing more, nothing less.

The scanner has a size of about 110 Megabytes which includes all definition files. It is not auto-updating and will automatically expire after ten days. That's a serious restriction that makes the program more or less unsuitable for tech support purposes as it would have to be downloaded every ten days anew.

The program does not seem to require the Microsoft .NET Framework, nothing's mentioned about that on the system requirements page.

You can download Microsoft's Safety Scanner from the official website over on Microsoft's website and run it on the computer you downloaded it to, or on any other system you transfer the file to.

Closing Words

Microsoft Safety Scanner is a basic program to scan a computer software for threats. It is not needed if you run Microsoft security software such as Windows Defender, but if you prefer to run third-party security software, you may find it useful as a second opinion scanner.

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  1. White Unicorn Rider said on April 25, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Actually, you guys should read its license agreement. It says MSS can only be used to design, develop and test software! Now, I’m asking myself what kind of software can be tested against MSS, beside a virus.

    You’d think some guys in Microsoft don’t have a grasp when April 1 comes.

    1. Guy Macon said on September 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      That license agreement was changed some time ago. Microsoft Safety Scanner’s end-user license agreement now allows use for non-profit home Use (any number of computers) or small business use (up to ten computers) and is specifically not licensed for use on enterprise versions of Windows or by government or academic institutions. See The Microsoft Safety Scanner article on Wikipedia for details.

  2. Carmen said on April 20, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Dan, is the best selection criteria for a security product the speed at which it can do a full scan? Or the quality of the scan and the lack of false positivies? It seems a strange choice to sit out a good free product for that reason in a non time-critical application. I can scan your computer for viruses INSTANTLY right now, without ever seeing or touching it. Would you recommend me?

    (It’s also worth noting that AV-Comparitives has not tested MSE 2.0 yet, and they still gave MSE 1.0 3-stars, their highest rating, in performance…)

    1. Dan said on April 21, 2011 at 1:20 am

      Scan speed is an important criterion, but not the only one. I never said otherwise. My point is that, for an on-demand malware scanner, scan speed can be a major factor in deciding if it’s worth downloading. MSE 2.0 (which I am still using) has been known to be a slow scanner, but we’re not yet sure if MS Security Scanner uses the same engine. If so, it’s too slow compared to other on-demand scanners with similar detection rates. You can stop misrepresenting my position now. :)

      BTW, AV-Comparatives has tested MSE 2.0. I only use the latest info, not outdated ones. :p

  3. Dan said on April 16, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I did a full scan of my netbook yesterday. It took 4 hrs 23 mins to scan 183,000+ files in 32,000+ directories (114 GB total). AV-Comparatives rates MSE’s scan speed as “slow”, one of only two AV products tested that are so rated. If MS Security Scanner is indeed just the on-demand version of MSE, then it would be hard to recommend this product.

  4. David Macdonald Ajang said on April 15, 2011 at 9:05 am

    As mentioned by SFdude, MS already has a malware cleaner called Malicious Software Removal Tool, which only detects certain number of malware. So this scanner is probably a portable version of MSE. Without the auto-update & real-time protection.

  5. Robert Palmar said on April 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks here too.

    Manual updating would be nice.
    I am not sure why Microsoft
    excluded that capability.

    Nonetheless the tool has
    its uses and is welcome.

  6. SFdude said on April 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm


    thks for this post!

    Sounds like an enhanced MRT (MS Software Removal Tool. also by MS),
    with a nicer UI + some additional features.

    I sometimes run MRT from the DOS Run command line.
    (MRT is included every time you do a Windows monthly Patch Update…).

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