As Windows’ built-in anti-malware and firewall tool, Windows Defender may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re looking for premium-grade protection against threats like spyware and Trojans. With a decent firewall tool and basic malware protection, it may provide just enough functionality to suit some people, but if you're looking for expert protection and support you can count on, you're better off going with TotalAV which offers a much better free solution.
Windows Defender Security Center provides very basic entry-level protection against viruses, Trojans, ransomware, and other malware forms. It’s installed with Windows by default, so even if you don’t wish to install a third-party solution, your system has at least some level of protection against these threats if you choose to use it, even if the protection is dated, lightweight and somewhat ineffective.
After all, Microsoft didn't create a product that they want you to try, like, and then buy. Rather it's a free software bundled with Windows, so they make a limited investment in Windows Defender, providing just the bare minimum. If you're looking for more robust protection against growing security threats, you'd probably be better off looking elsewhere. There are many other free Windows antivirus programs to choose from.
What We Found
After evaluating Windows Defender over three days, I was pleasantly surprised by the features included with this free default tool, however, I found the protection rather inadequate.
The tool doesn’t detect and remove many so-called “low risk” malware vectors, such as adware, because most users can live with it. While adware can bloat your system with annoying pop-ups, the experience is overall far less irritating than having your system hijacked (or your identity stolen) by a piece of ransomware allowed to run loose, which is why Defender focuses on these threats only.
Speaking of ransomware, there’s a nice integration with Microsoft’s cloud storage platform, OneDrive, to protect against this ever-growing threat. Users are able to copy critical personal folders through Defender into OneDrive so that they can still access them in the event that they’re locked down by a virus demanding a ransom payment.
Windows Defender automatically detects other antivirus systems you may have installed. This makes it easy to remove any old scanners if you want to entrust Windows Defender with being the sole protection against online threats - not necessarily something i'd recommend - but also rather annoying if you'd prefer to use a more powerful antivirus at the same time.
In addition to average virus and threat protection, Windows Defender also includes a simple built-in firewall. This tool isn’t particularly rookie-friendly but it does allow you to create and administer comprehensive firewall rules.
However, as the firewall is a stand-alone feature that you get anyway with Windows, the Defender porthole is merely another way to use what you already have access to. For example, the 'Network and Internet Troubleshooter' points you to the standard 'Internet Connections' troubleshooter you'll find in Windows Settings.
When it comes to other features, you'll also get a basic game mode and limited parental control tools that allow you to set a schedule or time limiter for your kids online. If you're looking for a VPN, password manager, or more advanced security settings for your kids, you'll have to look elsewhere.
In short, none of these features are as advanced or make up for the limited virus protection offered by the competition, but there's still a lot of functionality if you're looking for barebones protection.
There’s also phishing protection which automatically integrates, by default, with Microsoft’s own browsers: Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer. I tested out some known phishing URLs from phishtank.com and they were all successfully flagged by the system — unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for Google Chrome, which let me access the same URLs without flagging them as suspicious (and yes, I had the “protect you from dangerous sites” option enabled). For those that want to add Defender’s protection to Chrome, the Windows Defender Browser Protection plugin needs to be installed from the Chrome Web Store.
Parental Control Options
Windows Defender includes a comprehensive parental control filter. You can filter content, monitor screen time, and limit the apps your kids can access on their mobiles. However, the control tools only work on Windows devices and in Microsoft browsers - there's no protection if you use other platforms - so it really can't compare with the multi-platform parental control software offered by other antivirus programs.
Parental control settings are configured online in the cloud and family members’ Windows accounts can be added so that their access can be monitored and controlled by an admin in the family.
In fact, Microsoft even allows you to create special Windows accounts for your children, and the protection settings will automatically be applied whenever they log in and browse the net using Microsoft Edge (you’ll want to lock down access to other browsers if you have them installed). In addition to whitelisting and blacklisting functionalities, administrators are able to configure time limits and pull-down reports about browsing activity.
Ease of Use
Windows Defender comes pre-installed on every Windows PC and, if no other antiviruses are installed, it is automatically enabled. Naturally, this means that there’s no installation required which can be great if you're not tech-savvy or you want it to run in the background while using another antivirus. The program offers protection for your Windows device right out of the box.
Settings are administered in two areas: the Windows Defender Security Center, which includes virus scanning, parental controls, a basic firewall, and system health dialogs, and Windows Defender Firewall with Advanced Security. The latter is better reserved for expert use but the Security Center itself is pretty fast and straightforward.
Users have access to Microsoft’s global support network, which includes both telephone support and a ticket-based system. However, support for Windows Defender is lumped into Windows 10 support, which means it can be time-consuming to get your query in front of the appropriate technician.
Other avenues of support include an online Help and FAQ Center that contains guides on how to set up scans and resolve common difficulties and a Microsoft Virtual Agent (chatbot) that attempts to answer your queries by providing an answer from a database. You aren't dealing with an actual person, so your concerns have to be pretty standard for this chatbot to help you.
Remember, Windows Defender is a free tool and so its levels of support are limited to the functionality of the program. And the program is pretty basic and low investment on the part of Microsoft when compared to other free programs like it. If you don't like it, you can't uninstall it and you can't get your money back (because you didn't pay for it in the first place).
In short, you can't compare the support that you (don't) get from Microsoft with the personal support you (do) get from other antivirus programs.
Windows Defender and all its components are included in the Windows operating system free of charge. However, the antivirus is low cost and therefore low investment.
It's a fine choice if you're looking for barebones protection which is better than nothing, or if you're using this free software along with a powerful paid version. One thing you can be sure of though is that because Windows Defender is free and the only antivirus provided by Microsoft, they don't try to upsell you to a paid version.