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I am always thankful for reader tips. In my how-to article where I explained how to install Microsoft Safety Scanner on Windows PE, I got a tip that Microsoft is offering another free standalone antivirus software, Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper. The tool is only in beta, but it appears to work well.
Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper
What I like about Standalone System Sweeper is that creating boot media is very simple and quick. Most antivirus vendors who offer standalone antivirus tools (for instance, Kaspersky Rescue Disk) bother their users with step-by-step instructions. You don't need such instructions with Standalone System Sweeper. The installation wizard can create a bootable CD, USB stick, or ISO file for you.
Standalone System Sweeper boots up Windows PE, but you have no access to the command prompt. The functionality is comparable to Microsoft Safety Scanner and supports quick scans, full scans, and custom scans. Since custom scans don't work with Microsoft Safety Scanner under Windows PE, Standalone System Sweeper is the better choice if you want to perform an offline scan on specific drives and folders.
Standalone System Sweeper also allows you to exclude specific folders and file types. You can find the corresponding settings under Options in the Tools menu. There, you can also configure whether the standalone antivirus tool scans archive files (for instance, ZIP and CAB), email attachments, and removable drives. You can also specify whether heuristics are used to identify malware.
Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper - Advanced Options
The Tools menu lets you access quarantined items and allowed items (files that won't be scanned). You can also choose whether to share information about malicious software with Microsoft's online community SpyNet. Also useful is the History feature, which allows you to view previous actions of Standalone System Sweeper.
A downside of Standalone System Sweeper compared to Microsoft Safety Scanner is that you can't just run it from your USB rescue stick. Whenever I have to troubleshoot a PC in offline mode, I scan for malware first, just to be sure. Thus, it is useful to have an antivirus tool in your rescue environment. With Standalone System Sweeper, you need a second boot media and you have to boot up two times to troubleshoot a PC.
A major disadvantage compared to other free standalone antivirus tools (like Kaspersky Rescue Disk) is that Standalone System Sweeper doesn't support online updates. Hence, you have to create new boot media whenever new antivirus definitions are available. On the other hand, a plus of Standalone System Sweeper certainly is its nice and easy-to-use interface.
Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper - 32-bit vs. 64-bit
Note that a 32-bit and a 64-bit version of Standalone System Sweeper exist. You can only scan 32-bit Windows editions with the 32-bit version of Standalone System Sweeper, and you need the 64-bit version for 64-bit systems.