Is Windows Defender good enough to use in 2021 (yes and no)

Last updated by   Nwachukwu Glory
Disclosure
Windows Defender is an antivirus program that comes built-in with Microsoft Windows 10. As it provides right out of the gate antivirus defenses after installation, it indeed is a convenient tool. But many people keep wondering (and rightly so) if Windows Defender is good enough? The answer is 'yes,' but it has some shortcomings. This post uncovers precisely all that stuff.

Cyber threats have been on the rise lately. Individuals/organizations regularly lose their information through computer-related attacks.

Some of the attacks could cause the documents to get corrupt.

Others may make them completely missing and cause system malfunction. In some instances, the documents would be encrypted with ransomware.

Whether you have experienced any of this or not, it is important to protect your devices with antivirus applications. Antivirus programs can shield your documents and entire system from hackers. They can help protect your privacy, protect your systems against ransom wares, and generally maintain integrity.

Microsoft Defender, which many users still dub as Windows Defender (its initial name), is an in-built antivirus that comes with MS Windows. The program promises to deliver comprehensive real-time protection against viruses, spyware, and malware across apps, email, the web, and the cloud.

Despite Microsoft’s claims, many people keep asking questions like:

  • Is Windows Defender, the in-built Microsoft Windows antivirus, fast enough to eliminate threats without slowing your PC down?
  • Can it handle modern-day complicated malicious threats such as spyware and ransomware?
  • Do I need more protection alongside it?
  • Where it lacks?

All these questions are valid.

Let us tell you one thing, Microsoft understands the threat posed by viruses. That’s why the organization ensures that every Windows system has Windows Defender pre-installed in it. The application delivers real-time security protection against ongoing threats such as spyware, malware, viruses, and lots more.

However, in the past, Defender has not lived up to its name.

Windows Defender is designed to protect your computer from viruses and malware. The antivirus is pre-installed already if your PC is currently running on Windows operating system. Microsoft offers it for free as a built-in security tool.

The new version, also known as Microsoft Defender Antivirus, is made to operate impeccably on Windows 10 computers. This allows it to detect and eliminate threats without affecting system performance.

While it has improved significantly in the recent past, you cannot use it as standalone antivirus. The antivirus is not updated frequently, so it cannot offer advanced protection against the latest malware threats. That is why it is recommended to use it together with another free antivirus.

Read on to find out whether Windows Defender is good enough, its main features, reliable free antivirus you should combine it with, and much more.

What are viruses

A computer virus is an unwanted program that finds its way into a host system without the knowledge of the user.

Some of the viruses replicate and spread when they gain access to a system. Computer viruses are developed to perform unwanted and malicious actions on the target devices. Upon successful installation, these malicious programs can delete data, encrypt or corrupt files, and affect the performance of the system.

What are computer viruses
(Pixabay)

An antivirus program such as Windows Defender is used in fighting the activities of a virus program on the system. It recognizes, delete, halts, and removes viruses from the system.

Good antivirus programs would eliminate virus applications or disable them so that they don’t keep infecting the system and cause more damage.

A computer without an antivirus is unprotected and open to malicious activities. Such unprotected systems would let any virus enter that comes its way.

Fortunately for Microsoft users, Windows comes with the in-built Windows Defender that can secure their PCs from threats. Over the years, MS Defender Antivirus has evolved enough to register itself among the best anti-spyware and antivirus applications.

What damage can a virus do to a PC?

When a computer becomes infected with a virus, the following can happen to the host PC:

  • Delete the system files
  • Corrupt files
  • Destroy operating system files
  • Cause program malfunction
  • Encrypt files for ransom
  • Reformat the system
  • Lock the system and render it unusable etc

Is your PC better off without an antivirus?

A PC without an antivirus is vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and a virus can inflict severe damage on your computer and can also destroy your reputation. When your PC gets attacked, you can lose your files, your system may get formatted, crash beyond repairs, and you can be held for ransom and so on.

Not having a protective mechanism in the form of antivirus is like providing a clear pathway for hackers to gain access to your PC. If you wish your files and system to not get damaged, then you must install a third-party antivirus or enable Microsoft Windows’ in-built Defender on your PC.

What is Windows Defender?

Windows Defender is a program designed to protect computers from malware and viruses. Initially, it was available as a free anti-spyware tool for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. However, it has been developed into a fully-fledged antivirus program to replace Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 8 and beyond.

Prior to Windows 8, the software only offered protection against spyware. It involved multiple real-time security agents who monitored common changes in the system caused by malware.

There was also integrated support for Microsoft SpyNet, which allowed users to report anything they suspected to be malware. Windows Defender protection against viruses was included in Windows 8. It uses a similar anti-malware engine and virus definition as the Microsoft Security Essentials. If you are using Windows 10, you can control the antivirus in the Windows Defender Security Center.

It comes pre-installed on Microsoft Windows 10 at no extra cost for users. Here are the perceived benefits of free Microsoft antivirus and antimalware program:

  • Protects your system and ensures that you are not a victim of cyber crimes such as identity theft
  • Ensures that the data on your computers do not get corrupted
  • Its speeds up your computer
  • Windows Defender protects your shared networks against Trojan Horses.
  • Protect your cloud infrastructure.
  • Saves you time, money, and reputation
  • Ensures data compliance

Having an antivirus program installed on your PC is extremely important; however, the question remains, is Windows Defender good enough in 2021?

Hackers and viruses are getting more sophisticated as the days go by, and individuals/organizations need to protect their devices at the very best.

It means they must deploy tools and technologies that can limit virus attacks, which can lead to reputational damage, business disruptions, and data losses. Cybercrimes are getting more frequent, and it has been reported that more time and money is required to resolve a virus or hack issue in 2021.

Cybercrimes are rapidly evolving. It seems, Windows Defender now can keep up with the rapidly advancing threats. It is a result of the significant investment Microsoft has made to the advancement of the Defender.

Individuals and organizations face an increasing landscape, which includes information threats, supply chain attacks, ransom, and so on. These cybercriminals are deploying new and sophisticated technologies much faster than a lot of antivirus programs. However, this is no longer the case with Microsoft’s Defender.

Early years of Microsoft Windows Defender

Windows Defender early years
(Pixabay)

Windows Defender has existed since 2006, but its beginning was far from successful.

Independent testing organizations verified that the protection technology developed by Microsoft trailed behind other top virus applications. It had a low detection rate and exposed users’ PC to a lot of threats.

Despite Microsoft’s tremendous investment in ensuring technology comes to speed, its native antivirus still trailed behind other leading anti-virus applications for an accountable number of years.

In the early years, PCs running on Windows were reported to crash, especially when you run an update. This crash was due to some of the flaws that come with the Windows operating system.

Microsoft Windows update has been known to break Windows Defender, which would cause your system to be vulnerable. As a result, most people do not rely on the Defender for virus security and system protection. Many who cannot afford premium solutions have turned to free third-party firewalls and antivirus programs.

Some circumstances can force Windows Defender Antivirus to crash while running a complete system scan. This would lead to errors that can be seen in windows security and the PC’s systems event viewer.

Why the crash?

Why Microsoft Defender Antivirus Crashes
(Pixabay)

System crash as a result of using Windows Defender to run a full system scan is tied to some files that come with double dots in their file names.

Examples are Thisisnuts..Doc, which is very similar to the Y2K Bug. Windows attributed this issue to the Windows Defender intelligence virus definition that came built-in with older updates.

In some instances, tech-savvy users can fix this on their own by merely using the service manager to spot and stop it. However, your system can be compromised almost immediately before the issue gets resolved. Also, people with less technical knowledge are not able to get rid of this issue, which led to system compromise.

Windows Defender in 2021

As stated earlier, in the past, most experts would advise you not to rely on MS Windows built-in antivirus due to its unreliability.

However, that is no longer the case since 2019.

Before now, Windows users would usually deactivate Windows Defender and install other third-party antivirus programs. Things have significantly turned around.

In 2020, Microsoft Defender was voted one of the best antivirus applications. AV-Test, an independent testing lab, carried out thorough testing in May-June 2020. Windows Defender got a 6.0/6 score in the AV-Test report, which is quite incredible.

AV-Test also ranked Windows 10 built-in antivirus in the top three for best antivirus programs. The top two are premium antivirus programs, while Windows Defender is free.

Currently, it provides a good level of protection from all types of computer-related viruses. It provides anti-ransomware protection, comes with parental control features to keep kids safe online, has a vault, protects cloud infrastructure, and maintains data integrity and so much more.

Some people still doubt the efficiency of Microsoft’s Defender due to its reputational hangover. People seem to have a perception that Microsoft Defender is still unreliable as it used to be in the past.

However, some have realized its potential, and lately, its usage and perception have dramatically improved. Microsoft has added a lot of impressive algorithms to Windows Defender to make it more efficient and reliable.

The protection technology combines a wide range of sophisticated features and automatically carries out automatic and in-demand scans for malicious applications. Microsoft Defender also secures users’ PCs against dangerous URLs and the networks against DDoS attacks.

What are the features of Windows Defender?

(Pixabay)

Microsoft’s free antivirus program offers advanced protection via the Microsoft Defender ATP. It incorporates machine learning, artificial intelligence, and virus threat resistance research.

Also, when enabled, it secures cloud infrastructure to ensure maximum protection for PCs and networks. Microsoft Defender has been upgraded in 2020 to become next-generation system protection with the following attributes:

Real-time antivirus protection

An antivirus program is unreliable if it cannot accurately identify and eliminate threats. The same also applies if it erroneously detects safe software as dangerous.

Windows Defender combines artificial intelligence (AI) and Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure to examine billions of data signals in real-time to avoid these issues.

AI technology identifies genuine threats while allowing safe programs to pass. In a test involving over one million samples, the Windows Defender performed exemplarily with 100% accuracy.

Another crucial component is the prompt detection of threats. Windows Defender conducts real-time and continuous monitoring, detecting and stopping attacks.

This approach used by the Windows Defender is so effective to identify and stop emerging threats. For instance, it can stop zero-day attacks, a newly discovered vulnerability. Real-time monitoring and detection is a crucial feature since cyberattacks are evolving every day.

Malware protection

One of the most vital features of any antivirus program is to protect against malware. The previous version of Windows Defender was a basic security option that was highly unreliable.

Microsoft upped their game by substantially upgrading the Windows Defender software and even renamed Microsoft Defender Antivirus.  Today, it is one of the best antivirus programs for protecting computers.

AV-Test Institute is an independent IT security organization that tests and rates antivirus programs. As noted earlier, it recently conducted thorough testing on Windows Defender and gave it a 6.0/6 score, a perfect protection rating.

Windows Defender identifies unsafe apps and those not recognized as malware by using Microsoft cloud infrastructure data.

Behavioral-based monitoring

It carries out threat detection by studying every file and application’s behavior on the PC.

Microsoft Defender detects and blocks apps that the software finds behaving abnormally. It also automatically blocks apps that its database regards as unsafe for your PC. Other malware protection programs cannot detect some of these shady apps.

Regular updates

Windows Defender comes with an update patch that can automatically scan or search for updates from Microsoft cloud servers.

Once an update is found, it automatically downloads and installs it on your local PC to ensure the latest protection capabilities. New viruses are developed, and updates are made constantly.

So, you do not need to manually search for updates with Windows defender. Once a new virus definition is found, it automatically downloads and installs to keep your system protected. 

Cloud protection system

Microsoft engineers, carry out a regular study of emerging threats in the cyber world and automatically block them through windows defender. Aside from protecting individual PCs, it also protects cloud systems.

Lately, many organizations are migrating to the cloud, and cloud security is needed to help provide multilevel security and control.

Windows Defender can protect your cloud systems against DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of service). DDoS attacks occur when a huge amount of traffic is sent to the cloud servers to slow down services or to completely shut down the processes.

Windows defender monitors and significantly reduces the chances of DDoS attacks on your cloud infrastructure. It also ensures data security, 27/7 cloud system availability, decent flexibility, and lots more.

Regulatory compliance

Windows defender ensures that organizations are regulatory compliant. It helps manage system files, enhances cloud system infrastructure, and ensures data integrity, which is paramount for compliance.

Parental control

Everyone wants to keep kids safe online. And they should. One of the biggest challenges for parents and guardians is being able to monitor what their kids and wards are doing on the internet.

Advancement in technology has brought about easy access to illegal and potentially harmful websites that cannot be effectively controlled without an antivirus.

A parent or guardian would not be able to easily keep an eye on what the kid is doing with their computer. However, the Windows defender is the solution to this problem.

It provides a robust monitoring tool that can enable you to control what your kids are doing. It provides activity logs in the form of reports. Windows Defender filters website when the parental control features are turned on, to protect kids.

It can also limit the time kids spend on the internet, thereby making them more productive in other areas. It has a web console where parents and guidance can monitor kids activities in real-time as well.

With parental control, you can also define when your kids can use their PC’s and devices. Windows Defender has a family option page/console, which can enable you to view what your kids are doing directly. It can be used to monitor multiple systems activities at once.

Microsoft Defender’s anti-spyware technology

Lately, a lot of advanced spyware tools are being used to monitor an individual or organization. Microsoft Defender comes with a sophisticated and robust antispyware technology that goes the extra mile to ensure you do not get spied on. It quickly scans through all the data and apps on your PC to check (and remove) spyware signatures.

If it finds anything suspicious, it will help the user get rid of them. Windows Defender also keeps an eye on other legitimate software and application that are attached to spyware. If you are looking for ease of use and simplicity and don’t want unnecessary applications clustering your PC, it can play a significant role.

Resource management

When it comes to computer resource management, no antivirus application is as efficient as Windows Defender. It uses fewer computer resources, which means the PC would have more space and processing power. Lesser resources are used because it is designed by the same company that develops the windows operating system.

Controlled folder access

This is the latest addition to the anti-malware application. It provides an additional layer of protection against ransom wares. It can be used to protect specific folders, files, and even some PC RAM aspects against untrusted applications trying to gain access.

You may need to reconsider your stance if you have taking Windows defender for granted because of its previous reputation. Only a few antiviruses out there offer a controlled folder access feature.

Ease of setup

You don’t need to be tech-savvy to set up Windows Defender, which is one of its most vital points of the application. It comes fully integrated with your windows operating system; therefore, you need not download, install, or set up anything. As soon as you install Windows, it starts protecting your system automatically, which is different from other antivirus applications.

However, if you need to change Windows Defender settings, you can still do that very easily. The steps are basic enough, and you can quickly change whatever you want without needing to go through the documentation. With it, you can securely carry out a full system scan, custom scan, or offline scan with just a click.

Flexible status check

You can easily check the status of your Windows Defender through the icon at the status bar. When you click on it, you would be able to view your current Defender status, see the functions of the firewall, and adjust notification rules. You can also restore the firewall to the default state, troubleshoot your internet network, allow specific apps through the firewall, and so much more.

App and browser control

Windows Defender comes with browser and app control features that can let you keep full command of crucial functionalities. It has a state of the art Windows Smart screen that you can easily configure to warn, block, or ignore specific files and applications. Windows Defender also uses the latest technologies such as DEP SEHOP Control Flow guard, ASLR, and much more to hinder all the routes through which a user’s PC can get attacked.

Cost-effectiveness

Microsoft Windows Defender is cost-effective, and you don’t have to pay for a monthly or yearly subscription, but you still get maximum PC security. If you are low on budget and don’t want to spend extra money on antivirus, you should consider migrating to the Windows operating system. The system will enable you to use Windows Defender for free.

Supercharge your PC

Windows defender ensures that your PC is optimized and is running as fast as possible. The consequences of a Virus attack on your PC can result to slow processing speed, system crash, data compromise, and lots more.

It ensures that the system is properly protected; the hard drive is optimized and operating with good speed. This can save you a tremendous amount of time and effort.

Firewall

Windows Defender also works as a computer firewall, all thanks to its ‘comprehensive’ protection approach. It monitors outgoing and incoming traffic on your PC network. The program double checks every incoming and outgoing file through the network. It also checks all the sites you visit and block out a malicious website from your network.

It would ensure that you do not unintentionally download malware or access unauthorized sites. You can end-up exposing your PC to different cyber threats while merely accessing unauthorized sites. These attacks include ransomware attacks, hacking attempts, spyware, malvertising or adware, and lots more.

Protects your passwords

Windows Defender provides a secure login for users to ensure that their passwords are not compromised. When your passwords are compromised, hackers can use them to blackmail you, steal your funds, or gain access to other confidential information.

While its password protection feature might not be as good as some of the best password managers out there, but Windows Defender offers quality password protection for free.

Friendly user interface

Windows Defender comes with a simple / friendly user interface. With just a single click, it can purge all suspicious applications. It requires minimal user input to carry out its functions, and in most cases, no configuration is required.

What features does Windows Defender lack?

Web protection

Also known as DNS filtering, web protection is a crucial safeguard against viruses and malware. Most phishing emails bypass antivirus programs by using malicious links instead of file attachments to inject malware.

Windows Defender offers web protection on the Edge browser. However, since most people use Chrome, they will be left out of this crucial feature that prevents malicious sites.

Password management

Another area that Windows Defender has failed to address is robust password management. Because people have multiple passwords to deal with, they use weak combinations so they can remember. Some even reuse the same passwords for various web applications.

Windows Defender does not offer a password management tool to recommend and store robust passwords.  

Cloud backup

A cloud backup is an imperative protection feature against malware and virus attacks that destroys your data. It safely stores your files, and you can quickly restore them at any time. Unfortunately, Windows Defender does not offer this protective component.

Luckily, you can use Windows Defender together with another free antivirus for added protection. There are many other free antivirus software that offers better malware and virus protection than the Windows Defender. For instance, some even provide a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

However, free antivirus programs can be lacking in other areas. Maybe their malware scanner is not sufficient, or real-time protection does not work well. Actually, there is no free antivirus that will offer complete protection.

That is why it is recommended to use free third-party antivirus alongside Windows Defender to give your PC decent protection. While combining two free antivirus programs is better than using one, you should never trust your PC to be 100% safe.

If you store sensitive data such as your passwords, pictures, or bank information, you should consider investing in an affordable premium antivirus like Norton 360.

How does Windows Defender compare with other free antivirus programs?

Kaspersky Security Cloud Vs. Windows Defender

(Kaspersky Lab)

Kaspersky Security Cloud is Kaspersky’s free version that offers more advanced cybersecurity features than the Windows Defender.

Its malware scanner is cloud-based and continuously updates the database with the newest malware threats.  Although Windows Defender has a cloud protection feature, it cannot match Kaspersky Security Cloud.

During our testing, the antivirus effectively detected the phishing sites we tried to access and blocked many malware sample files. Since the software is updated more frequently, it offers better protection than the Windows Defender.

You will also be impressed with Kaspersky’s interface as it is much easier to use than the Windows Defender.

The best part is that the Kaspersky free antivirus also offers a password manager and VPN, two critical security tools that Windows Defender lacks. While the VPN provides only 200MB daily data, it has pretty decent speeds.

Bottom line:

Overall, Kaspersky Security Cloud offers much better features and protection than the Windows Defender. The malware scanner is faster, and the detection rate is near-perfect. If you upgrade to the paid version, you will get more features such as safe money, privacy cleaner, webcam protection, anti-spam, etc.

TotalAV vs. Windows Defender

(TotalAV)

TotalAV is a user-friendly antivirus that actively protects your PC from malicious malware and viruses. The free version comes with a range of essential features better than what the Windows Defender offers. We used the Junk Cleaner to scan our computer and freed nearly 5 GB of our hard disk space.

During our testing, it identified and blocked all the sample malware files. The downside is that you have to upgrade to the paid version to get real-time protection offered for free on the Windows Defender.

The paid subscriptions offer premium features such as Safe Browsing VPN, Ad-Block Pro, and password manager. Although Windows Defender does not provide these features, other free antivirus programs like Kaspersky offer them for free.

Bottom line:

TotalAV offers a lot of functionality than the Windows Defender. The PC optimization feature will help to enhance the performance of your device. Although it does not provide real-time protection on the free version, you can upgrade to the paid version to access it and many more features.

Avira vs. Windows Defender

(Avira)

Avira antivirus program comes with many features, even on the free version, including an integrated firewall, real-time malware protection, free VPN, and more.

The malware scanner performed exemplary during our test identifying 100% of the malware samples we used. You will be thrilled with the ‘custom scan’ that allows you to only scan for specific malware like spyware or ransomware.

Avira’s paid version (Avira Prime) offers additional features such as PC optimization tools and password manager. There is also USB scanning, although Windows Defender provides external device scanning for free.

Bottom line:

Avira’s malware scanning and real-time malware detection perform better than Windows Defender. While the antivirus offers a decent VPN, it lacks crucial features such as USB scanning, available on the Windows Defender for free. Nonetheless, it has several premium features, including PC optimization tools and password manager, making it a good Windows Defender complement.

Bitdefender vs. Windows Defender

(Bitdefender)

While Bitdefender’s free version is pretty basic, it offers a highly effective malware scanning engine that is surprisingly lightweight. It detected 100% of the malware sample files we used during our testing. This is much better compared to our experience with Windows Defender.

The paid version offers great security tools such as integrated VPN, secure banking tools, customizable scans, and parental controls. Even though the Windows Defender has decent scanning options, it lacks essential tools like parental controls and VPN.

Bottom line:

Bitdefender malware scanning engine performs better than Windows Defender. While the free version is lightweight, it is very powerful with real-time protection. The premium version comes with crucial features such as a VPN and parental controls, which Windows Defender does not offer.

Malwarebytes vs. Windows Defender

(Malwarebytes)

Malwarebytes free version is limited as it only offers malware scanning without real-time protection. However, it works well when combined with Windows Defender.

The dashboard looks complicated, but it is straightforward to use and navigate. Everything is laid out, and the scan button will appear once you open the program.

Malwarebytes Premium version is a secure and highly-capable antivirus. It offers protection against multiple threats, including ransomware and zero-day attacks.

Bottom line:

Although Malwarebytes is good at identifying and removing malware from PC, it is not powerful enough to act as standalone antivirus. However, you can combine it with Windows Defender for better protection.

Final notes

Lately, Microsoft has significantly invested in Windows Defender, and this has ensured greater efficiency. Research carried out by independent labs in 2019 found that it blocked 99.9% of the known malware programs successfully.

As per the 2020 tests, Windows Defender Antivirus blocked 100% of all brand new virus successfully, which is greater than the detection rate of other major antivirus programs.

Windows 10 free antivirus a go
(Pixabay)

In essence, Windows Defender is good enough for your PC in 2021; however, this was not the case sometime ago.

Previously the antivirus program was not sophisticated enough to handle modern threats. It also used to crash a lot during updates, which has, unfortunately, giving it a bad reputation even in 2020. However, Windows Defender currently provides robust protection for systems against malware programs, which has been proved in a lot of independent testing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using Microsoft’s built-in antivirus as your choice of system protection in 2021. It comes pre-installed with windows without additional charges. Moreover, it is convenient to use, especially for less tech-savvy people who may not understand how to configure other premium antivirus applications for optimum results.

Having an antivirus program like Windows Defender installed on your PC is a no brainer. Not only can it help save a lot of reputational damage, but also you would end up saving money as it is free. Microsoft Defender’s importance is apparent, and no matter the level of threat, it can keep you secured.

If you are looking for a top-notch antivirus program and fancy simplicity, too, then Microsoft Defender is the answer. But it is not the only top free antivirus programs out there. For your antivirus AB testing, we recommend you not to settle on Windows Defender only. Instead, try out some other alternatives like Kaspersky and Bitdefender, too. The best part is it won’t require much work from your side to test another antivirus app.

The best way to protect your PC is to combine the Windows Defender with another reliable free antivirus. However, you can never have 100% protection with free antiviruses, especially if you have saved sensitive information on your PC. That is why you need to upgrade to a budget-friendly antivirus like Norton 360.

Windows Defender frequently asked questions

What do I have to do to activate the Windows Defender on my PC?
Will the Windows Defender work on my PC if I already have antivirus software?
Is Windows powerful enough to keep me safe from cyber threats?
Does Windows Defender protect mobile devices?
Can Windows Defender eliminate malware in my PC?
Can Windows Defender offer protection against phishing scams?
Will I incur any charges for using Windows Defender?
Which is the best antivirus software to complement the Windows Defender?
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About the author

Nwachukwu Glory
Nwachukwu Glory

Nwachukwu Glory is a writer, blogger, and tech nerd. She loves trying new gadgets that make life more fun ( and easier). Glory is passionate about digital security and privacy alongside browsing the World Wide Web without any limitations.

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