Windows Defender Overview
This program comes pre-installed in Windows 8.1 and above, and has fully replaced the previous package called Microsoft Security Essentials.
It is a free product, but we are extremely pleased with the malware detection and ransomware protection, which is comparable to paid competitors like Avira and Bitdefender.
The Defender Security Center contains a robust suite of security features that gives you comprehensive protection from viruses, spyware, malware, and other threats.
Between many functions, an intuitive interface, real-time, protection, and lab certified results, Windows Defender is the complete package.
To top it all, it is completely free. Hence, we think it is one of the best options when compared with the free versions of other competing antivirus products.
How to Set It Up and Uninstall
The product comes pre-installed in every Windows device running on versions 8.1 or higher.
Still, if it is not there or you wish to add it, complete the following steps:
1) Visit Microsoft’s website and find the product.
2) Download the package by clicking on the Get Now button.
3) Double click on the downloaded file and follow the instructions on the screen.
4) The installation wizard will successfully install the Defender and its related components.
Uninstalling Defender is not a good idea. You can instead turn it off temporarily or tweak some features.
Even if you figure out a way of uninstalling it, it will get reinstalled with the next Windows update.
Do the following to turn off Defender temporarily:
1) Open the Windows Security app.
2) Select the feature you want to turn off.
3) Follow the instructions on the screen until you receive confirmation from the system.
From our experience, we think Windows Defender covers the basics perfectly. It is the right choice if you’re seeking a bare-bones antivirus alongside some reasonable extra features at no cost.
You gain virus and threat protection, account protection, firewall and network protection, app and browser control, device security, device performance and health monitoring, and parental control features.
Additionally, this antivirus received an ADVANCED rating from AV-Comparatives in September 2019 and outshines many competitors which also offer free versions of their platforms.
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There are four scan modes available, and the antivirus runs silently in the background. The USB scan is an essential feature in addition to custom, full, and quick scans. You can check specific folders in your system or check all files on your hard disk.
A full scan takes close to an hour, but it runs in the background so you can perform other tasks simultaneously.
We found the real-time protection to be good and the AV-Comparatives September 2019 results also demonstrated that Defender was able to offer 99.96% protection, which was better than the 99.91% scored by competitors like Kaspersky and ESET.
Windows Defender is a complementary product that is available for free with no strings attached.
Because the product comes pre-installed for free with Windows operating systems and is freely available for online download, there are no discounts offered for this solution.
Privacy and Security
We think Defender offers enough privacy and security for a free product. First, you get a fully controllable firewall, something that is absent in big brands like TotalAV. The phishing protection is average but you will get browser protection for Explorer and Edge.
It does a decent job of detecting and removing all types of spyware, worms, Trojans, rootkits, and phishing attacks in real-time. Still, Defender is a bare-bones antivirus solution.
The privacy feature is decent, but if you are looking for advanced privacy features like an accompanying VPN, we would recommend that you look for a different product.
The product has received consistent appreciation from one of the leading independent testing companies. AV-Test has repeatedly ranked Defender among the top-ten antivirus products in terms of reliability and security.
The only visible drawback is the number of false alarms. Other than this, we think Windows Defender does a near-perfect job of keeping your device secure around the clock. It scored an impressive 17.5/18 in the December 2019 AV-Test Best Windows Antivirus Software Test, leaving behind competitors like Trend Micro and McAfee.
Additional features like Parental Control, Device Performance, and the health monitor ensure extra layers of security and optimization for your Windows devices.
Performance and Protection
The antivirus does not monopolize space on your device and runs silently in the background. Full scans may take an hour or more, and this is extremely long compared to any other product.
We did not experience any system slowdown when we tested the product on our devices. There were some hiccups when we performed multiple tasks at the same time, but that is acceptable.
However, AV-Comparatives’ October 2019 Performance Test results placed Defender in 16th place because of the high impact score of 17.0.
The real-time protection feature locates and stops malware from installing itself on your device. It does a perfect job of protecting your device from malware in any form. Even AV-Comparatives awarded Defender an ADVANCED rating for malware protection in the September 2019 Malware Protection Test. The antivirus was able to surpass the rating received by McAfee, which offers one of the most highly acclaimed freemium platforms.
In addition to a real-time scan, the cloud-delivered protection and automatic sample submission features make sure that you are protected from the newest threats as they unfold.
This is a critical feature that comes by default with Defender. Not only does it protect your device from ransomware but it also helps you restore the deleted files in case of an unexpected attack. You can protect the files, folders, and other disk partitions on your computer from unauthorized changes by applications.
Moreover, the option of connecting OneDrive for file recovery options in case of a ransomware attack is one feature that you would not receive with most premium antiviruses.
The browser protection feature is strong but it works only with the native browsers, IE and Edge. However, parental control is one feature that is offered for free, and we think this is one of the major reasons why more and more users are attracted to Defender.
The product performed exceptionally well in the July-Aug 2019 Real-World Protection Test by detecting and blocking 100% of 352 malicious URL samples. This score is way better than those of premium products like F-Secure and Panda.
The real-time engine can offer decent protection from spyware. Though you will not get the luxury of advanced features like a virtual keyboard, webcam protection, dedicated VPN, and more, most of these options are unavailable from the free versions of premium products. The protection rate is consistent and the antivirus can detect newer threats as well because of the frequent upgrades in its signature database.
Accordingly, the product was awarded the ADVANCED+ rating in the March 2019 Protection Test alongside Bitdefender and Avira.
You get a basic firewall with the antivirus. It gives you decent customization options like allowing selected apps through the firewall, network troubleshooter, notification settings, and more. You also get to edit and add three connection modes including viz. domain network, private network, and public network.
The Defender SmartScreen feature works in conjunction with the firewall settings to give you a full-fledged app and browser control for enhanced security and privacy.
In addition, you can rest assured knowing every incoming and outgoing connection request is duly verified and vetted by the firewall settings.
Lab Test Results
Windows Defender has been highly rated by independent testing labs like AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. Although a free antivirus, the company has been consistently eligible for tests and has stood out with near-perfect scores every time.
For instance, the 2019 AV-Test Results for the best Windows antivirus software for home users evaluated 18 products on three parameters (a score of 6 on each) – Protection, Performance, and Security. In the December tests, Defender scored 17.5/18. It had the same score in the October and August tests as well.
Based on the consistent performance and 100% protection rate, AV-Test awarded it the Top Product Certification, placing it with other big names like Bullguard and AVG.
The product has delivered equally good results on most of the tests performed by AV-Comparatives. It competed against 15 other products in the September 2019 Malware Protection Test and was able to provide 99.96% protection against 10,556 samples of malware variants.
We think the only possible problem that test results have pointed out is the sheer number of false alarms. In the September 2019 False Positives Test, Defender ranked 7th with 13 false positives, closely followed by Trend Micro with 14 and Panda with 21.
Ease of Use and Interface
Based on the various interfaces we have tested, we think Defender has the easiest and most-straightforward user interface. All of the icons on the key screen are properly placed with clear instructions on what they are used for. We loved the fact that we can run scans as and when needed right from the main dashboard. However, it did not allow us to schedule a scan.
Moreover, the antivirus solution comes pre-installed on every Windows device, so you do not have to do anything extra. It gets disabled by itself whenever you install any 3rd party antivirus tool, which we feel is a nice feature.
Each icon, when clicked, leads to you a screen that lists all the features available for that menu. We have not found any other product that offers the level of flexibility and customization as Defender. You will get a lot of advanced security features within the firewall and network protection feature. There are additional options to select notification and update preferences.
The company has done a good thing by adding the submit feedback option so you can submit any malware that went undetected to Microsoft. We also valued the easy navigation to related features like Get Help and Privacy Settings.
This is a free product, hence, expecting premium customer service is a mistake. Since it is a factory-installed product, Microsoft will resolve issues that you may encounter when using it. We think the well-maintained online FAQ and Help sections cover the majority of the queries one might encounter.
In case these do not answer your questions, there is the option to chat with the virtual agent (which mostly redirects you to the exact answer you have been looking for).
If everything fails, you have the highly acclaimed Microsoft global customer service network to help you. The company offers support through phone and email (a ticket-based system).
Overall, we must say that Microsoft offers more than enough support resources to help you benefit from their free antivirus solution.