Does Windows 10 Come With Antivirus?

The more important question may be, how effective is Windows Defender?

By
&
Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Mar 27, 2021
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Mar 27, 2021

It’s no secret that Windows PCs come with their own form of antivirus software called Windows Defender or Microsoft Defender Antivirus. However, many people wonder if Windows Defender alone is sufficient to protect against viruses, malware, and the like. Is Windows Defender enough?

Norton Quick Scan Completed
Norton Quick Scan Completed

Does Windows 10 Come With Antivirus?

We’ll get straight to the point: yes, Windows 10 PCs come with antivirus software called Windows Defender. But you may be wondering, “Do I still need antivirus?” To find out, let’s take a closer look at Windows Defender itself.

Windows Defender / Microsoft Defender Antivirus

Windows Defender, also called Microsoft Defender Antivirus, provides real-time protection against:

  • Malware
  • Spyware
  • Viruses

Windows Defender scans a user’s email, internet browser, cloud, and apps for the above cyberthreats. However, Windows Defender lacks endpoint protection and response, as well as automated investigation and remediation, so more antivirus software is necessary. That can come in the form of either Microsoft’s Defender for Endpoint or another third-party antivirus software for Windows.

How to Turn Windows Defender On and Off

Turn Windows Defender on:

  1. In the Start Menu, search for “group policy”.
  2. Click Edit Group Policy.
  3. Click Computer Configuration.
  4. Click Administrative Templates.
  5. Choose Windows Components.
  6. Click on Windows Defender Antivirus.
  7. At the bottom of the screen, select Turn Off Windows Defender Antivirus.
  8. Select Disabled / Not Configured.
  9. Click Apply, then OK.1

We know these instructions sound like turning Windows Defender off rather than on, but trust us, as this information is coming straight from Microsoft (aka the horse’s mouth).

Turn Windows Defender off:

To turn Windows Defender off, here are the steps:

  1. Click Start.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click on Update & Security.
  4. Click on Windows Security.
  5. Click on Virus & Threat Protection.
  6. Select the Manage Settings option.
  7. Click on Virus & Threat Protection Settings.
  8. Switch Real-Time Protection off.

FYI: When you turn off Windows Defender, scheduled scans will still run, but files you download or install won’t be scanned until the next scheduled scan.

How to Check Status Icons

Just like a traffic light, Microsoft shows status icons that indicate safety levels. Here’s what they mean:

  1. Green: The PC is protected and Microsoft has no recommended actions.
  2. Yellow: There is a safety recommendation.
  3. Red: Something needs immediate attention.

How to Scan for Malware

If you’re set with Windows Defender, here’s how to scan for malware.

Manually

If you want to scan for malware in a specific file or folder:

  1. Go to File Explorer.
  2. Right-click on the item.
  3. Select Scan With Microsoft Defender.

Windows Security

  • Quick scan:
    1. In the Start Menu, click Settings.
    2. Click on Update & Security.
    3. Select Windows Security.
    4. Click on Virus & Threat Protection.
    5. Select Current Threats.
    6. Select Quick Scan/ Threat History.
    7. Hit the Scan Now button.
  • Advanced scan:
    1. In the Start Menu, click Settings.
    2. Click on Update & Security.
    3. Click on Windows Security.
    4. Click on Virus & Threat Protection.
    5. Click on Current Threats.
    6. Choose Scan Options / Threat History.
    7. Run a New Advanced Scan.
    8. Choose one of the following:
      • Full scan: This scan checks all of the files and programs running on your PC.
      • Custom scan: Custom scans only scan specific folders or files.
      • Microsoft Defender Offline scan: Only use this scan if you think your PC has been infected by malware or viruses.
    9. Click Scan Now.

How to Schedule Scans

Scheduling scans automatically means more protection for your PC and less work for you.

  1. Click on the Start Menu.
  2. Search for “schedule tasks”.
  3. Select the Task Scheduler.
  4. In the left pane, click the arrow next to the Task Scheduler Library.
  5. Click Microsoft.
  6. Click Windows.
  7. Select the Windows Defender Folder.
  8. In the top right pane, select Windows Defender Scheduled Scans.
  9. Select Properties.
  10. A window will appear — select Triggers.
  11. Click New.
  12. Set a time and frequency for your scheduled scans.
  13. Click OK.
  14. Review what you selected.
  15. Click OK again.
  16. Scans will happen automatically (if you choose to go with Windows Defender, that is).

Windows Defender vs. Third-Party Antivirus

In digital security, redundancy is a good thing. And while Windows Defender provides built-in antivirus protection for Windows 10 PCs, it has its limits.

Ivacy VPN Windows Screenshot
Ivacy VPN Windows Screenshot

The Limits of Windows Defender: Myths and Facts

Many articles online say that Windows Defender performs poorly, slowing down computers while giving false positives. Well, we’ve investigated these claims to see how well Windows Defender really works.

Myths

False Positives

A false positive is any file or process that an antivirus detects as malicious but isn’t a threat. False positives aren’t exclusive to Windows Defender; they can occur with Microsoft Defender for Endpoint or any other antivirus program. And it’s true that Microsoft may not have the information in their database to determine if a so-called threat is safe or not.2 However, 2020 results from AV-Test of Defender Antivirus version 4.18 show that the software had no false positives, unlike the industry average.3 So, while false positives may have been a negative of Windows Defender in the past, Microsoft has cleaned them up significantly.

Testing Number of samples Industry average November AV-Test results December AV-Test results
False warnings / blockages when visiting websites 500 0 0 0
False detections of legitimate software as malware during system scans 1,322,783 3 0 0
False warnings about certain actions performed when installing and using legitimate software 77 0 0 0
False blockages of certain actions performed when installing and using legitimate software 77 1 0 0
Performance

Another common criticism of Windows Defender is that it slows down PCs significantly. But again, AV-Test’s data on Defender Antivirus’ average influence on computer speed in daily usage show that the software slows down standard PCs less than the industry average. That’s also true of high-end PCs, for the most part. The one exception was the speed of downloading popular apps, which was 14 percent slower with Defender Antivirus than the industry average. Still, in general, Defender Antivirus is faster than the industry average, so that myth is busted as well. Move aside, Snopes!

Testing Scope Industry average Standard PC Industry average High-end PC
Slowdowns when launching popular websites 50 websites 15% 6% 11% 5%
Slowdowns when downloading frequently used applications 20 files 2% 2% 2% 16%
Slowdowns when launching standard software applications 12 test cases 12% 7% 9% 6%
Slowdowns when installing frequently used applications 20 installed applications 28% 26% 23% 19%
Slowdowns when copying files, locally and in a network 9,874 files 6% 1% 10% 1%

Facts

These are the real limitations of Windows Defender:

  • Lack of endpoint protection and response
  • No automated investigation and remediation

Again, to supplement Windows Defender, you can pair it with Defender for Endpoint. Of course, there’s also the redundant option of using another antivirus software from a third party, which we recommend for the most safety possible.

StrongVPN Windows App
StrongVPN Windows App

Other Antivirus Software for Windows

We’ve tested out a number of antivirus options and found the best antivirus software for Windows. But what will they cost you?

Free vs. Paid Antivirus

Sure, there are several free antivirus software options available, but they typically have limits, such as these:

  • They may not be compatible with Windows 10 PCs.
  • They may not have firewalls.
  • They often limit the number of devices you can connect.

While free antivirus software may work for a single device, you want to protect all of your devices against viruses, so you’ll probably want to invest in a paid subscription. Sorry, Charlie!

Pro Tip: We found that the best free antivirus software for PCs is Kaspersky Antivirus. It also includes a VPN of up to 200 MB per day, a password manager that stores the credentials of 15 accounts, and data collection blocking.

What to Look for in Windows Antivirus Software

Not sure where to start? Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a great Windows antivirus:

  • Windows 10 compatible software: To state the obvious, make sure the software is compatible with Windows 10, as not all options are.
  • High ratings in Windows Store: The app should have a rating of four stars or higher in the Windows/Microsoft Store, ideally.
  • On-demand and on-access scans: The software should scan for malware whenever you ask for it as well as automatically in the background.
  • Firewalls: Firewalls offer protection against an entire network, not just a single device.
  • Behavior-based detection: The software should be able to detect malware even if it’s not in its database by scanning for suspicious behaviors rather than signatures.
  • Solid privacy policies: Obviously, antivirus software scans all of the files on your PC and more, so it’s important that the company is keeping this data safe from data breaches; otherwise, you could be at risk of identity theft. Make sure the data is encrypted with AES-256 and isn’t shared with third parties for marketing or advertising purposes.
  • Clean history: Between data breaches and class-action lawsuits, companies like Norton, Kaspersky, and AVG have pasts that don’t exactly spark trust. Research not only your antivirus software, but also the company behind it. Of course, you may decide that an antivirus software like Kaspersky may still be worth it, despite its past, but it’s important to get the whole picture.
  • Effectiveness: How effective is the antivirus software at detecting viruses and malware? You can use our virus test data and the malware detection data from AV-Test to find out.
  • Affordability: Antivirus software is certainly more expensive than VPNs, unfortunately. According to our study on the personal antivirus market, most people using antivirus software for personal use spend around $40 a year. No wonder it’s a $1.8 billion industry in the U.S. alone! Learn more about the costs of antivirus software.
  • Contract lengths: Another contrast to VPNs is that most antivirus software contracts start at a year, while VPNs typically have monthly options. However, you can save money by signing up for even longer, as some companies offer two- or three-year contracts as well.
  • Number of devices covered: Find out not just how much a subscription costs, but also how many devices it covers. Aside from iPhones and iPads, all devices need antivirus software, so count them up!
  • Customer support: Finally, check out the company’s customer support systems. See how you can contact support, and read customer reviews to get an idea of how effective the support system really is.

Best Practices for Security on Windows

Installing third-party antivirus software onto your Windows 10 isn’t enough to protect your computer on its own. We have a few other recommendations:

  • Avoid phishing. If a link looks unfamiliar, don’t click on it; the same goes for messages, emails, and attachments, as they may be attempts at phishing.
  • Back up regularly. In case your PC crashes, always back up your files onto either a cloud server or an external hard drive that is both encrypted and password-protected. Test your password with our secure password checker while you’re at it!
  • Don’t use administrator accounts. System administrators who access their emails and the internet using administrative accounts make themselves vulnerable to hacking, phishing, malware, and account takeovers.4 Instead, use a standard user account or, if you’re only using the PC temporarily, a guest account.
  • Update software. Always perform software updates as soon as possible, despite how long and annoying they might be.
  • Use a dedicated browser for Flash/Java. Flash and Java are known to have vulnerabilities, so if you run any websites that use them, we recommend doing so in a separate and dedicated browser.
Hotspot Shield Windows Kill Switch
Hotspot Shield Windows Kill Switch

More Windows Security Features

Windows didn’t stop their built-in digital security protection at Windows Defender. A few other tools are built into all Windows 10 PCs, such as these:

Windows Hello: Instead of using a regular old password, you can log in to accounts using multifactor authentication, such as biometrics like fingerprint or facial recognition. Of course, you’ll still be able to use a PIN as backup, but Windows Hello makes logging in to accounts three times faster than traditional passwords. What will you do with all your saved time? We’re going to take up knitting!
Ask a Parent: Keeping kids safe online is no easy task, from installing parental controls to child-proofing laptops. Fortunately for Windows users, parental controls are built into the Windows 10 PCs. Parents can set limits on screen time and require permission for the purchases of games, movies, or apps. No random transactions showing up in your bank account? Sounds good to us!
Find My Device: Lastly, if you lose your Windows device, Find My Device will help you locate it, whether it’s a PC, a laptop, a Surface, or a Surface Pen.

Recap

We’ve thrown a lot of information your way, but the bottom line is that, although Windows 10 is effective in terms of performance, it lacks some key features, like endpoint protection and remediation. In digital security, redundancy is key, so we recommend installing third-party antivirus software. But if you have other devices aside from your Windows 10, read more about whether Chromebooks need antivirus, whether iPads need antivirus, and how antivirus works in general.

Kaspersky WebRTC Leak Test on Windows
Kaspersky WebRTC Leak Test on Windows

FAQs

You thought we were done? Well, you’re dead wrong.

  • Does Windows 10 need antivirus?

    Although Windows 10 has built-in antivirus protection in the form of Windows Defender, it still needs additional software, either Defender for Endpoint or a third-party antivirus. That is because Windows Defender lacks endpoint protection as well as full-service investigation and remediation of threats.

  • Does Windows 10 come with McAfee?

    Windows 10 does not come with McAfee, but instead the proprietary Microsoft antivirus software called Windows Defender.

  • Is free antivirus software enough?

    Whether or not free antivirus software is enough depends on the exact brand and plan you choose. There are some free antivirus software options that work, but depending on the number of devices you have, it may not cover all of them.

  • Is Windows Defender enough to protect my PC?

    Windows Defender on its own is not enough to protect your PC, as it lacks endpoint protection and investigation and remediation of threats.

Citations
  1. Microsoft. (2020). Turn on Windows Defender to access company resources
    docs.microsoft.com/en-us/mem/intune/user-help/turn-on-defender-windows

  2. Norton. (2021). Possible reasons Microsoft Defender may report threats that Norton doesn't.
    support.norton.com/sp/en/us/home/current/solutions/v118593681

  3. AV Test. (2021). AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Nov-Dec/2020.
    av-test.org/en/antivirus/business-windows-client/windows-10/december-2020/microsoft-defender-antivirus-4.18-205017/

  4. LBMC. (2020). Why You Should Not Use an Admin Account.
    lbmc.com/blog/why-you-should-not-use-an-admin-account/