Is Windows Defender good enough for your security?

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So, you’ve got a new laptop, and now you have to set it up. You know that one of the things you need to install is antivirus software. But do you still need it?

Your Microsoft laptop comes with Windows Defender by default. But you might wonder if that’s enough.

Microsoft Defender for Antivirus, more commonly known as Windows Defender, serves as the primary anti-malware system for Windows devices.

Windows Defender generally prevents malware and network-based attacks. Some say it already provides adequate protection against everyday risks, thus eliminating the need for third-party antivirus programs.

Even so, it’s normal to have doubts about solely relying on Windows Defender. It effectively blocks several issues, but it’s a stretch to say you won’t need any other cybersecurity tool anymore.

Just like you, we don’t take chances with our data privacy. So we reviewed official Microsoft resources and gather first-hand insights discussing Windows Defender.

Please read without skipping. We’ll tell you an outdated and damaging yet common misconception about the CPU usage of Windows Defender. Otherwise, you’ll leave yourself defenseless during critical moments.

Let’s dive in!

How Windows Defender protects your device

Before diving into our Windows Defender review, we want to explain the differences between Windows and Microsoft Defender.

In everyday conversation, users tend to use these terms interchangeably. However, if you want to flesh out Microsoft anti-malware systems, it’s imperative that you understand the semantics first.

Microsoft Defender was originally divided into several individual and group cybersecurity solutions, including:

  • Microsoft for Identity
  • Microsoft for Endpoint
  • Microsoft for Office 365
  • Microsoft for Cloud App Security

However, during the Ignite conference in 2020, Microsoft unveiled its new, more streamlined line of Microsoft Defender products: Microsoft 365 and Azure Defender. 

Microsoft 365 basically encapsulates all the services we listed above. Meanwhile, Azure Defender is a cybersecurity solution for clients using Azure, Microsoft’s patented Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) product.

All these services provide excellent network-based and cloud-based cybersecurity for enterprises, but for the sake of this review, we will only focus on Windows Defender.

Windows Defender used to be part of Microsoft for Endpoint. After rebranding, Microsoft changed its name to Microsoft Defender for Antivirus.

But what exactly did rebranding Windows Defender do?

Thankfully, it still comes free with any Windows 10-equipped device. Microsoft only changed the program’s name because it needed to set it apart from paid Microsoft Defender services.

We’ll dive into the specifics later. But to give you an idea, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus offers the same free services: threat detection, anti-phishing blocks, and system performance updates.

It still protects your device 24/7. If you use a Windows 10+ device, you’ve likely seen its virus detection pop-ups before, especially if you often receive files and links via email.

Note that Microsoft Defender for Antivirus has three modes:

Active Mode
Microsoft Defender for Antivirus is the default anti-malware program on your Windows device. It works out of the box on brand-new gadgets; you don’t need to install or set up anything.
Passive Mode
Switch Microsoft Defender for Antivirus to passive mode if you have a third-party anti-malware program. It will still inform you about system risks and malware threats, but only your primary antivirus program can address them.
Disabled
Later, we’ll show you how to turn off Microsoft Defender for Antivirus. But we don’t recommend doing so because it’s a free, effective system that hardly affects CPU usage.

Don’t fret about accidentally disabling Microsoft Defender. Your device will automatically switch it on if you don’t have a third-party antivirus app running.

Top reasons to use Microsoft Defender

Although there are antivirus programs with more sophisticated anti-malware systems, you shouldn’t overlook Microsoft Defender for Antivirus altogether. Many use it as their primary Windows antivirus system for the following reasons:

1. Straightforward cybersecurity

Security is essential. However, the average working adult won’t waste time setting up multiple anti-malware and cybersecurity systems; reports show that half of Americans don’t even change their passwords.

Most people want a straightforward, hassle-free cybersecurity system. Fortunately, that is exactly what the Microsoft Defender for Antivirus provides: simplicity.

It’s an all-in-one cybersecurity solution that automatically detects and resolves threats by itself; you won’t have to do anything. The program even comes pre-installed.

2. Free services

Not only is Microsoft Defender for Antivirus easy to use, but it’s also free. Any device equipped with Windows 10+ will automatically have it, although you’ll have to pay extra for enterprise-level solutions.

3. Excellent system updates

We commend Microsoft for regularly updating Microsoft Defender for Antivirus. It doesn’t charge a penny for its antivirus program, but the dev team still goes above and beyond to address the legit concerns of its clients.

For instance, a few years back, users disliked that Windows Defender was too reliant on cloud technologies. In response to this issue, the platform promptly added new offline features.

Nowadays, the Windows Defender Security app can still scan your Windows-enabled laptop or PC, regardless of whether you have internet or not.

4. Seamless system integration

Needless to say, the Microsoft Defender for Antivirus works extremely well in a Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft is specifically designed for Windows, after all.

No other antivirus program carries the same sophisticated technology that scours every area of your Windows device’s hardware and software systems.

Also, let’s say you use Microsoft Defender 365. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus even coordinates with the program’s various sectors to ensure the security of your hardware, software, network, and cloud systems.

5. Minimal CPU usage impact

For the longest time, Windows users have had doubts about Microsoft Defender for Antivirus because it supposedly lags your device. Admittedly, Windows Defender used to consume significant system resources.

Fortunately, Microsoft overhauled and streamlined the anti-malware technologies of Microsoft Defender for Antivirus. 

It can now detect and resolve threats more efficiently. So unlike when using third-party antivirus programs, which consist of bloat, your device’s performance won’t suffer.

Moreover, most Windows devices nowadays have enough CPU and RAM to run multiple anti-malware programs, including Microsoft Defender for Antivirus, easily.

6. Reliable technical support team

Microsoft has a fairly reliable tech support team for Microsoft Defender products. You can call +1 (800) 1110 2363 for various concerns, whether your anti-malware system isn’t responding or your Microsoft Defender didn’t automatically renew.

Warning: Only call +1 (800) 1110 2363. Please don’t engage with the pop-ups and ads saying your system supposedly has a virus; these are scams.

The key features of Microsoft Defender for Antivirus

Microsoft Defender for Antivirus comes with the following features:

1. Offline scan

Users didn’t like how Windows Defender didn’t function well offline. Yes, the system did hardware scans, but its scope was very limited if you had a spotty internet connection.

Fortunately, Microsoft improved the offline scan features of Microsoft Defender for Antivirus. It now has a more extensive scope.

Not only does it spot network-based attacks, but it also detects and resolves quarantine malware hidden in secret files. You don’t have to check your documents and files individually anymore.

2. Real-time protection

Again, an offline scan detects and resolves all malware threats. If an infected file somehow gets past the system scan, its real-time protection feature prevents said files from installing malware.

The system sends warnings even if it’s not connected to the internet. But please note that they’ll always come in the form of system notifications, not website pop-ups or ads.

3. Windows firewall

Microsoft Defender for Antivirus bolsters your local Windows device’s firewall system. It blocks all unauthorized traffic flowing into your device.

For instance, let’s say a hacker’s trying to bypass your local hardware system’s security features. It has to go through your firewall first.

Moreover, Windows Firewall uses IPsec to encrypt and encapsulate incoming traffic. As a result, even if the hacker somehow gets past the initial barrier, they won’t be able to extract and interpret the data.

4. Anti-phishing protection

Microsoft Defender for Antivirus warns you about potential phishing attacks. If you visit an insecure website or landing page, you’ll get a system notification explaining the risks.

You can also set your system to block these websites automatically. Just note that it restricts all insecure links, even legitimate, small websites with expired SSL certificates.

Pro Tip: If you upgrade to Microsoft Defender 365, your antivirus will actively monitor all the links and files in your Office programs.

5. Routine system performance reviews

Does your Windows device seem unusually slow? Instead of examining the task manager, let Microsoft Defender for Antivirus do a full system scan.

It will give you an in-depth system performance review. Just browse the reports; you’ll immediately see the program, infected file, or malware affecting CPU performance.

6. Parental controls

The parental controls on Microsoft Defender serve multiple purposes.

First, it prevents your kid from accessing prohibited sites. You can block pages displaying pornographic content, limit screen time to a fixed number of hours, and stop insecure links from loading.

Second, it hides confidential documents. You wouldn’t want your kid accidentally posting your personal data (i.e., credit card statements, government agency letters, tax returns) on their social media pages, would you?

7. Hardware and device security

Microsoft Defender for Antivirus has multiple security protocols preventing unauthorized software activity. Note that hackers infiltrate devices through forced app downloads.

For instance, let’s say you accidentally download an infected app or spyware. Even if you open the file, your Windows device will inform you about the risks and discourage you from running it.

Also, software programs can’t function without your permission. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus immediately reports suspicious activities coming from third-party programs.

Step-by-step guide on using Microsoft Defender for Antivirus

Any device equipped with Windows 10, or newer OS versions, automatically has Windows Defender. If you don’t see it yet, you can easily turn it on by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Start menu and search for Group Policy.
  2. Next, hit the Edit Group Policy option and select Local Group Policy Editor.
  3. Click on Computer Configuration, select Administrative Templates, go to the Windows Components panel, and finally, hit the Microsoft Defender Antivirus section.
  4. Wait for the window to open, then toggle the Turn on Microsoft Defender Antivirus button.

If you also use Microsoft Azure, turn on your cloud security features by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Start menu and search for Windows Security.
  2. Open the Virus & Threat Protection window and select Manage Settings.
  3. Toggle the Real-Time Protection and Cloud Delivered Protection buttons.

Now, if you’ve had your Windows device for some time now and want to check whether Microsoft Defense for Antivirus is running, do the following:

  1. Go to the Start menu and search for PowerShell.
  2. Once the PowerShell window opens, type “Get-MpComputerStatus” in the blank field.
  3. Scroll down to the AMRunningMode section, then you’ll see one of the following statuses:
  • Normal: A Normal status indicates that Microsoft Defender is running. You’ll see this label by default.
  • Passive: If you see this status, it means that Microsoft Defender is running, but it only supports your primary third-party anti-malware system.
  • EDR Block Mode: If you upgrade your Microsoft Defender account and use Endpoint, you’ll see this status.
  • SxS Passive Mode: It means Microsoft Defender doesn’t recognize that your third-party malware program provides adequate protection, so it hasn’t switched to Passive mode yet.

After turning on Microsoft Defender for Antivirus, you can resume using your device as you normally do. Just ensure that you address all system warnings. 

Is Microsoft Defender for Antivirus better than third-party antivirus software programs?

We think that Microsoft Defender for Antivirus ranks among the best anti-malware programs on the market. 

It’s a free, effective cybersecurity solution. You can consider setting Microsoft Defender for Antivirus as your primary anti-malware system if you:

  • Have no experience with cybersecurity tools. Using Microsoft Defender for Antivirus requires no technical knowledge or skills. Most Windows devices even turn it on by default. Unlike other anti-malware apps, you don’t have to buy or install anything—just respond to the system notifications and warnings on your device.
  • Use a 100% Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus seamlessly integrates with other Microsoft products (i.e., Azure, Teams, Office). You can also use it with groups. If your family or coworkers share certain Microsoft products, Microsoft Defender will further bolster your security.
  • Just need free, standard protection. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus is 100% and already provides the basic cybersecurity services you need, from malware detection to parental controls. 

With that said, we believe that several other antivirus programs provide more sophisticated, robust cybersecurity services. Explore other options if you:

  • Regularly access insecure sites or the dark web. Unfortunately, Microsoft Defender doesn’t have the capacity to combat sophisticated malware attacks from the dark web. You should eliminate your online footprint altogether.
  • Store super-confidential files. Consider bolstering your cybersecurity system if your devices carry several confidential files (i.e., company transactions, employee SSNs, client data). 
  • Want a sophisticated cybersecurity system. Windows Defender only provides super-basic security features. To protect your devices, You’ll need another antivirus program, dark web monitoring service provider, Virtual Private Network (VPN), third-party firewall, and password manager, among other cybersecurity tools.

Whether or not you use Microsoft Defender depends on your needs. Either way, it comes free with Windows devices, so you won’t lose anything by trying it out yourself first.

The limitations of Microsoft Defender for Antivirus

Again, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus is an excellent anti-malware program. You’d be hard-pressed to find another antivirus system that provides the same extensive cybersecurity features.

However, it has its limitations. Some of the most prominent downsides of Microsoft Defender for Antivirus is that it:

CONS

  • Doesn’t secure your network. No, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus doesn’t have an in-platform VPN. Hackers can still redirect and decode your traffic.
  • Isn’t scalable. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus has a paid version compatible with Teams and Office. You can try it with small groups. However, larger teams might benefit from a more robust, scalable antivirus program.
  • Provides limited malware defense. Unfortunately, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus doesn’t have a super-sophisticated antivirus protection system. It can block everyday malware attacks. However, skilled crooks specifically targeting your device with high-end hacking tools can quickly bypass its firewall.
  • Lacks helpful cybersecurity features and tools. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus doesn’t offer anything apart from malware detection and removal. Yes, the program is free. However, you’ll find antivirus programs with extra services like dark web monitoring and password management for just a few dollars a month.

Overall, consider investing in more sophisticated, premium anti-malware services if you have high cybersecurity needs.

Pairing Microsoft Defender for Antivirus with another antivirus program

You can use Microsoft Defender for Antivirus with another antivirus program. Just make sure that the program you use provides services that Microsoft Defender doesn’t have; otherwise, you’ll waste system resources.

Also, even if you get a third-party antivirus system, keep Microsoft Defender for Antivirus running. Instead of turning it off entirely, switch to: 

Passive
To give way to your third-party antivirus program, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus switches to passive mode. You’ll still receive malware detection notifications. However, only your primary anti-malware system can eliminate threats and restore your device.
SxS Passive
This feature is relatively new. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus automatically switches to SxS Passive if your new antivirus system doesn’t meet its security requirements. In this mode, you’ll still get periodic scanning reports.

Users avoided pairing Windows Defender with antivirus programs to reduce bloat. They feared that simultaneously running them would cause lag.

Admittedly, devices back then would lag when running Windows Defender alongside other programs. After all, anti-malware programs consumed weighty system resources. 

Important: However, technology has significantly evolved in the past years. Most brand-new PCs and laptops nowadays come with at least 8 GB of RAM and a Core i5 processor, which are more than capable of running two anti-malware programs 24/7.

So if you’re worried that your new device will lag, don’t be. Check your system’s specs, turn on Microsoft Defender for Antivirus, install your preferred third-party antivirus program, and see how they affect your CPU’s performance. You should have no issues with everyday tasks. 

How to turn off Microsoft Defender for Antivirus

You can temporarily turn off Microsoft Defender for Antivirus by following these steps.

  1. Go to the Start menu and search Windows Security.
  2. Open the app, click the Virus & Threat Protection panel, then hit the Manage Settings button.
  3. Toggle the real-time protection and Cloud protection buttons.

Note that Microsoft Defender for Antivirus will still follow its scheduled scanning process. To turn off the program completely, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Run command, input the keyword “regedit” in the empty field, then hit the Ok button.
  2. Click on the Microsoft Defender (or Windows Defender if you have an old Windows OS) folder.
  3. Next, right-click on an empty space inside the folder, hover over the New section, then click the DWORD (32-bit) Value option.
  4. You should see a new file pop up on the screen; rename it to “DisableAntiSpyware” and hit the Ok button.
  5. Right-click the new DisableAntiSpyware file, select Modify, then input “1” in the Value Data field.
  6. Finally, create five more DWORD (32-bit) Value files. Rename them to the following codes with their corresponding value data:
    1. DisableAntiVirus: 1
    2. DisableRealtimeMonitoring: 1
    3. DisableRoutinelyTakingAction: 1
    4. DisableSpecialRunningModes:1
    5. ServiceKeepAlive: 0

After creating the following DWORD (32-bit) Value files, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus will stop running completely. It’ll show an error if you try to run it.

Factors to consider when looking for antivirus programs

You tried using Microsoft Defender for Antivirus and found that it doesn’t provide enough protection. 

You want to try another antivirus program. However, since this is your first time exploring cybersecurity tools, you might not know where to start looking.

To help you narrow down your choices, we listed the most critical factors to consider when searching for an alternative to Microsoft Defender:

Cost
To give way to your third-party antivirus program, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus switches to passive mode. You’ll still receive malware detection notifications. However, only your primary anti-malware system can eliminate threats and restore your device.
Security Limitations
This feature is relatively new. Microsoft Defender for Antivirus automatically switches to SxS Passive if your new antivirus system doesn’t meet its security requirements. In this mode, you’ll still get periodic scanning reports.
Extra Features
If you’re already paying for antivirus protection, you’ll do well to invest in an app that has added security features.
System Requirements
Running an anti-malware with a high CPU usage will make your device lag unless it has adequate system resources. 

Overall, look for an antivirus program that meets your cybersecurity needs, device, and tech lifestyle.

Best alternatives to Microsoft Defender for Antivirus

To jumpstart your search for a better alternative to Microsoft Defender for Antivirus, we made a brief list of recommendations.

Norton 360
It offers several extra features. At just $150 per year, you’ll get identity theft protection, cloud backups, password management, VPN services, and dark web monitoring.
McAfee Antivirus
If you want to provide affordable yet effective antivirus protection for the entire family, try McAfee. It runs on as many devices as needed for just $95 per annum.
Malwarebytes
Out of all the antivirus programs in this article, Malwarebytes carries the most sophisticated malware threat detection system. It stops both local and network-based threats. The cheapest plan starts at $44.99 per annum, but you can run it on five devices if you pay $20 extra.

Feel free to explore other options. We encourage using free trials before paying for months’ worth of antivirus protection.

Keeping your Windows accounts and devices safe

Microsoft Defender for Antivirus provides excellent overall protection against malware and network-based attacks. It definitely has potential as a standalone anti-malware system.

You can also have Microsoft Defender for Antivirus running 24/7. The system will notify you if it detects any suspicious files, links, and emails—which you should promptly address.

So, is Microsoft Defender good enough for security? Unfortunately, the answer depends on your cybersecurity needs.

If you only use your device to surf social media websites and do schoolwork, Microsoft Defender for Antivirus should provide the basic level of protection you need. Just avoid downloading files from shady sites.

Meanwhile, if you visit hundreds of websites daily, store confidential documents, use banking apps, and record personal data, you’d do well to invest in a third-party antivirus program. Ideally, choose one that combats sophisticated malware attacks.

Overall, remember that no two people have the exact data privacy needs. Instead of blindly emulating what other users do, build a unique, customized security setup.

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