Windows 10 carries over the built-in Microsoft antivirus program, Windows Defender. It’s robust and constantly updated, but as a free, bundled application, is it actually up to the very important job of PC security? Is Windows Defender the best antivirus for Windows 10?
Windows Defender is effectively the next iteration of Microsoft Security Essentials, a free antivirus option Microsoft offered for Windows 7. The company clearly decided that users weren’t doing enough to protect themselves and Microsoft didn’t want to carry the can in bad PR and support tickets when users got themselves hacked.
Windows Defender is now built in and activated by default. Every Windows 10 install now has a baseline level of antivirus protection and part of Microsoft’s reputation rests on Defender doing a good job.
Defender routinely scans programs and files you open, and gets new virus definitions from Windows Update. It will do scheduled system-wide scans and you can use it on demand to scan the filesystem.
Question is how does Defender measure up in a competitive antivirus market?
For one thing, as a Microsoft bundled application, it’s only reporting back to Microsoft, as Windows itself already does; it, doesn’t bombard you with ads, doesn’t try to install a bunch of junkware by the back door and doesn’t claim to be a total security suite (i.e. a disk-eating pile of bloatware) including everything from disk encryption to a bonus coffee percolator). Both commercial and free antivirus software brings with it a multitude of baggage and bad behaviour – yes, Norton/Semantic we’re looking at you.
The key question is how well does it perform in its central role of detecting viruses, malware and Trojans? The answer depends on how you measure and rate antivirus programs. And who’s doing the testing. Looking through previous performance tests on sites like av-comparatives, you get a mixed picture. Fastest in performance tests, Defender is well down in detection rates. Look at benchmark tests elsewhere and Defender is firmly mid-table.
Like all antivirus programs you have to keep it up to date (and Windows Update is very strict at enforcing updates, which is in this case not onerous and generally a good thing.
If you look at the ‘low’ scores that drop Defender down the league tables, the margins of difference are often small. BitDefender and Kaspersky regularly top the tables leaving the next nearest dozen or so products jostling for position
BitDefender and Kaspersky regularly hit 99.x% of threats and Defender gets 95-97%, depending on the tests and the methodology.
Windows 10 also carries forward other protective measures from Windows 8, like SmartScreen filter aimed to stop download and execution of malware, through the browser. If you use Chrome or Firefox, you can also enable Google’s Safe Browsing, to block further malware downloads.
One effective measure commonly recommended is to supplement Defender with a specialist anti-malware program such as Malwarebytes – we put it on every new Windows 10 machine at home and work and leave it to get on with the job of dealing with zero-day exploits, root-kits and the like,
Most users doing regular home and office tasks will be fine with Windows Defender (plus Malwarebytes) on an up to date PC with a secure browser. Let’s not forget the attack vector for a lot of malware is through social engineering targeted at the human in front of the screen. You’ll need a lot more than antivirus if you’re surfing the Dark Web or running pirated software from dubious torrent sites. AJS