Cybersecurity is an increasing issue for both individuals and businesses. Gone are the days when people only had to worry about viruses. Nowadays, ransomware, spyware, and various new forms of malicious software are considered an everyday threat.
Protecting your computer from these harmful programs should be a grave concern. Real-time detection of suspicious files and questionable websites becomes a necessity for the always-connected world.
Since the release of Windows 8, and eventually Windows 10, users with fresh installation of the Windows operating system don't have to worry about installing antivirus software. And unlike Windows 7, they won't always be reminded to install one.
Windows Defender was first introduced along with Windows 8 back in 2012. It is an evolution of a previous security software called Microsoft Security Essentials. It is an attempt by Microsoft in security software. It is meant to help identify and remove viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.
However, with the rapidly evolving cybersecurity threats, is sticking with Windows Defender as your primary security suite enough to protect your machine?
What Windows Defender can do?
Windows Defender is a well-integrated security system built-in to the operating system. It is quite easy to use and does not require installation. The interface is relatively straightforward and has little impact when running in the background. It can also efficiently collect threat samples from the users' machines. For a security suite, it is quite low-maintenance.
The introduction of Windows Defender Security Center makes it easy for you to see security and privacy tools. Your firewall, system monitoring tools, parental controls, and Windows Defender itself can be found and managed in one interface.
Windows Defender is an antivirus and anti-malware in one. It detects malicious applications and possible threats while running in the background. It can identify and block malicious websites in Internet Explorer and Edge. It scans email attachments when received through Microsoft Outlook. It even protects links accessed through Microsoft Office 365 as well.
Being built into Windows, it runs quietly in the background. It will only notify you when a threat is detected. Furthermore, it does not come with bloatware. The third-party security suites often associate bloatware.
What Windows Defender cannot do?
Windows Defender provides essential protection very well. However, that's where its weakness also shows. It is basic.
It was never meant to be a full suite security. It was developed to be a minimum level defense for those who are still setting up systems. Additionally, Windows Defender disables itself when you install a third-party security application. It just avoids confliction with the new security application.
It has an abysmal result in detecting malware, clocking in at only 89 percent detection of well-known malware from tests in 2013. While it seems passable, in cybersecurity it is unacceptable.
However, Microsoft is working hard to improve it. In 2015, AV-TEST, an independent IT-security institute, conducted a test resulting in almost 97 percent detection. Still, they observe that Windows Defender's results are rarely consistent.
In December 2015, it slipped to 90 percent. Comparatively, this is a far cry from the results of 2013 and 2014 studies where it can only detect about 70 percent of well-known malware. Its current results conducted last April 2017 yielded significantly better results at 99.9%. It heavily relies on the consistency of the updates.
Other tests conducted by other independent labs showed mixed results. AV-Comparatives gave it an average rating. UK's SE Labs had mediocre results as well. You should note that most free solutions received high or near-perfect evaluations in most of the lab tests throughout the years.
While Windows Defender is relatively low-maintenance and resource-efficient when running in the background, during active scans, it has a noticeable effect on the performance of the computer. Quick scans are often passable in performance, but Full Scans noticeably impacts system resources.
It is also trickier to customize beyond the default settings. Additionally, it has a hard time keeping up with browsers other than Internet Explorer and Edge. That means Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox don't get as high protection as its native counterpart. It does not scan the emails accessed through its web interface as well as those in Outlook. It has average malware and malicious URL blocking results.
What should you do?
Windows Defender offers necessary protection and does it well. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in lab tests and demanding requirements during Full Scans makes it a last resort for a full suite antivirus and anti-malware program.
It's average rating in most reports is also not enough when threats are evolving quite aggressively. Simply put, while Windows Defender is getting better, it is not sufficient.
There are several solutions, paid and even free, which outperform Windows Defender. Avira Free Antivirus offers active antivirus detection and blocking.
Its strength lies in its efficient scheduling options. You can set quick daily scans to protect you from day-to-day threats. Additionally, you can set-up a weekly full scan to catch any viruses that managed to pass through the real-time protection.
If you need the best premium protection, Kaspersky Total Security fits the bill. While a bit pricey than other premium options, it offers total protection for your machine. It scored near-perfect results in virus detection with the least false positives. It provides real-time browser protection, making it ideal for frequent access to online banking and shopping.
MalwareFox protects your system beyond viruses. Most antivirus applications miss on newer forms of malicious software, spyware, and ransomware. It removes suspicious files and efficiently blocks them.
MalwareFox also protects your browser from annoying ads and pop-ups which are conventional sources of malware. With its highly optimized system, you won't notice any performance issues on your computer.
Windows Defender can offer essential protection for your machine. This fully-integrated security application makes it one of the most low-maintenance and user-friendly software out there. However, its average performance and inconsistent test results put it behind other antivirus and anti-malware programs.
Your best option is to install better performing antivirus and anti-malware programs. Both free and paid applications are available that can better protect your system from everyday threats. With frequent updates, Windows Defender might catch up to its better-performing competitors in the future.