Microsoft Defender (formerly Windows Defender) Review 2021

Microsoft Defender (formerly Windows Defender) Review 2021

Microsoft’s products are so popular that many users think, “Why would I go with anything else, if there’s an antivirus that is built by the same company that created my OS?” We get it. Microsoft Defender (formerly known as Windows Defender) provides capable protection, but the question is, is it really enough in 2021? 

In this review, we will go through Defender’s features; put its performance to the test, and make sure you have all information you need to make an informed decision on whether or not it’s the product for you.

Is Windows Defender Good? Our Short Overview

Windows Defender has undergone a series of improvements in the past several years and it’s significantly better and more capable than its predecessor – Microsoft Security Essentials. Before, the test results were not impressive at all, but in January 2021, the cybersecurity testing lab AV-test that we continuously follow gave Defender a perfect 6.0 score for its protection capabilities. 

Windows Defender Security at a glance

The latest version also offers a password manager, online privacy features, backs up your files with One Drive and provides ransomware protection. It also includes Microsoft’s version of parental control – Family Safety. The good news is you don’t have to install Microsoft Defender if you are a Windows 10 user – it’s already there and it’s completely free. But you might not be using it if it’s not enabled.

Here is how to enable Microsoft Defender on your Windows-based computer:

1. Click the Start button on your Windows computer.

2. Type Group policy into the search bar.

3. Click on Edit group policy.

4. Click Computer Configuration, and then click Administrative Templates.

5. Click Windows Components, and then select Microsoft Defender Antivirus.

6. Scroll down to the bottom of the list and look for Turn off Microsoft Defender Antivirus. Click on Disabled or Not configured (whichever one is visible on your device). Note that while this might seem contradictory, you’re on the right track.

7. Click Apply, then click OK.

Overall, Microsoft Defender is a good option to provide basic protection against known viruses for Windows. We would not recommend using it for macOS computers. We also found that it will not protect you against phishing attacks or low-risk malware such as adware or keyloggers. For these advanced features, you’d need to use more advanced antivirus products, like Norton or Kaspersky. Our tests have shown that it’s very confusing for devices to use Microsoft Defender with other antivirus products. To avoid incompatibility issues, deactivate Defender before using other products.

Windows Defender Key Features

The set of features that Defender provides is limited and straightforward. We find its interface less confusing than many other Microsoft products. When you’ll get to the main screen, you’ll see 7 categories of protection. Let’s discuss them in more detail.

Virus & Threat Protection

The real-time protection immediately detects and stops malware from accessing to your computer. By default, this feature works in the background. It won’t affect your computer’s performance because Microsoft utilizes their cloud infrastructure here, hence the majority of computing resources aren’t coming from your device. If any type of malware has been detected, you will get a notification immediately.

Windows Defender Virus and Threat Protection Window

Tamper protection is another important feature that prevents hackers from accessing your computer. In general, if the tamper protection is disabled, then hackers can easily turn off the real-time and cloud-based protection features. But if it is active, it will be impossible for the hackers to disable the above two features.

Windows Defender Tamper Protection Option

Ransomware Protection

Ransomware is a kind of cybercrime where the hackers encrypt your files and would only decrypt them in exchange for ransom. To prevent this activity, Microsoft introduced ransomware protection in Windows Defender. For some weird reason, this feature is disabled by default, but you can enable it by turning the radio button of Controlled Folder Access in ON mode. This feature protects your documents, music, videos, and pictures. 

Windows Defender Ransomware Protection

The only thing we didn’t like is that if Defender decided that some file or app isn’t reliable, it’s not easy to unblock it. To add an exception for the unknown but trustworthy app, you need to dig into the settings unlike other popular antivirus products, where you can easily add the app to the list.

MD Ransomware protection isn’t advanced by any means, but the good news is that it automatically bcks up your files to One Drive so you don’t have to worry about their safety if your device gets compromised which is a fair trade.

Firewall & Network Protection

Windows Defender offers Firewall security features and gives you control over network security through inbound and outbound protections. It’s a decent feature, but setting it up is not as easy as you might hope. The purpose of this feature is to protect your device from accessing questionable web pages that can leave your computer vulnerable to different threats.

Windows Defender Firewall and Network Protection

App and Browser Control

This inbuilt utility provides two sub-features, i.e., Reputation-based protection and Exploit Protection which protects your device from unwanted applications, files, websites, and malware. We suggest not to tamper with the settings here since they are pretty complex and default ones work just fine. 

Windows Defender App and Browser Control

In reputed-based protection, you’ll get the SmartScreen feature that blocks malicious sites. But this feature only works with the Edge browser.

Family options

Windows Defender Family Options

In Windows Defender, you will get a parental control option that will help you to monitor your kids’ activities. You can block unwanted websites, limit screen time, limit external devices access like PSP. But family safety is pretty basic and needs a lot of improvement to be compatible with leading antivirus solutions.

Does it help to prevent phishing and spoofing?

Phishing is a cyber activity where hackers create a similar page to the one that you’ve visited and once you reach it, they will steal your valuable data including bank credentials. Windows Defender doesn’t do much for phishing protection and all their efforts are limited to Edge browser which is barely used by anyone.

Windows Defender Phishing and Spoofing Protection

In comparison to other antivirus products, Windows Defender is far behind in handling phishing attacks. Kaspersky is at the top of the leaderboard and got 100% success in preventing phishing and spoofing attacks.

Microsoft Defender – Test Results and Our Experience

If you look at the test results from different testing labs, you’ll see that Microsoft Defender gets the job done when it comes to major viruses and threats. Here are a couple of the latest examples:

AV-Comparatives Real-World Protection Test July-August 2021

The results are based on the test set of 380 live test cases (malicious URLs found in the field). As you can see, Microsoft did pretty good, especially considering it’s a free product.

Here are the results from another reputable lab, AV-TEST:

AV-Test gave Microsoft Defender high scores not only for its protection capabilities, but for performance and usability as well.

I would say, however, that setting certain features up can be pretty painful with Defender and other products are a lot easier to navigate (e.g., Norton) and use. But let’s not forget that you get Microsoft Defender for free and maybe it’s worth it to do some extra googling and set everything up once and for all.

How Good is Windows Defender Scanning for Threats?

In Windows Defender, the real-time protection is always in ON mode (default). This shows that the antivirus is continuously running on your computer and preventing malware, ransomware, and other viruses to safeguard your device.

Windows Defender Real Time Protection Settings

MD offers 4 different types of scan options: Quick, Full, Custom, and Microsoft Defender Offline Scan.

Windows Defender Scan Options

In Quick Scan, you can examine your core applications and also can remove the potential threats. On the off chance, if you think your hard disk is performing slower than usual, then go for a Full scan to remove all the unwanted programs installed in your device.

The custom scan gives you an option to choose which files or folders you want to examine.

The best part of the scanning feature is the Microsoft Defender Offline scan, its virus database is updated and stops malware that bypassed the early scan options. It takes only 15 minutes to complete the task and after that, you need to restart your computer to eliminate malware from the device. Technically, even if a regular scan didn’t do the job, the offline scan will remove the threat leaving threats no second chances.

Unlike many other products, Microsoft Defender focuses mostly on real-time scanning. So, what we suggest doing is to run a full scan once you activated a product and make sure that your real-time protection is on and that should be enough. All other scan options are geared towards situations where you feel like your device isn’t performing as well as it used to. 

Bottom Line

Microsoft Defender (formerly known as Windows Defender) would be my first choice if I was a Windows user who is looking to protect their device without spending a dime. It can definitely save you the trouble of picking the right solution and give a decent level of protection against malware. On the other hand, it lacks tons of advanced features like VPN, identity protection and some of the features are pretty basic. So, if you’re using your device heavily and store important information on it – I would look the other way and go with more advanced standalone products. If you do so, don’t forget to deactivate Microsoft Defender to avoid conflicts. 

We like the One Drive feature that automatically stores backups of your files and real-time protection. 

The mobile products are questionable and we wouldn’t rely on them much. 

How much does it cost per year?

Microsoft Defender is an inbuilt utility of Windows OS and it is included with Windows 10. 

What payment methods does it accept?

Windows Defender is available free of cost, so you don’t have to pay for it. To purchase a Windows license, you can go with Credit Card, Debit Card, and online banking. Also, if you are going with the Microsoft Defender ATP product, then you will have to buy it using the same payment methods that are listed above.

Does Windows Defender slow down computers?

Windows Defender does not slow down the computer as it works in the background without hampering the computer’s performance. However, if you have installed another antivirus, compatibility issues may occur and your computer may slow down. But, in general, Microsoft Defender does not affect device’s performance significantly since it does most of the work in the cloud.

Can You Use Windows Defender on your Mac?

Yes, Windows Defender supports Mac, and the performance, interface, and usability are the same as Windows OS. But the installation part is a bit tricky one, either you have to go for BootCamp Partition to separately install Windows OS on Mac or virtual drive. That’s not something we recommend doing because Microsoft Defender isn’t the best choice to protect your Mac from advanced threats and it barely goes above inbuilt macOS protection.

Windows Defender mobile app

Microsoft Defender Endpoint supports both Legacy Device Administrator and Android Enterprise. To install Microsoft Defender Endpoint for Android, you need to visit Google Play via Microsoft Intune and then deploy the software on your device.

Microsoft aims to offer security features to all users, irrespective of the devices they are using. So, the giant firm recently introduced Microsoft Defender ATP for Android to protect the data of the users against malware, phishing attack, and other viruses.

With this software, the Android users will get SmartScreen technology to block harmful Wi-Fi networks.

Windows Defender Endpoint is also available for iOS to protect users against phishing, ransomware, malware, network connections, and many more. The list of actions taken or alerts can be seen in the Windows Defender Security Center.

Does it offer customer support options?

Customer Support is quite essential because this is the best platform to resolve the query. Microsoft knows it has a large number of users and they need assistance to fix the issues, so it retains Customer Support service. Furthermore, you will get forums and articles to resolve any issue related to Microsoft products.

On the off chance, if you failed to get the utmost solution, then you can contact the tech support team via Email, Live Chat, or Phone. The team is available around the clock, but you won’t find a separate tech team for Microsoft Defender because the support is for Microsoft Products and Windows Defender is also one of its parts.

Windows Defender Antivirus Advantages and Disadvantages

Every product has advantages and disadvantages and as a user, you must be aware of that because it helps you to judge the product. So, let’s see about the positive and negative aspects of Windows Defender

Windows Defender Advantages

  • It is an inbuilt utility of Windows OS that comes free of cost.
  • It does not alter the computer’s performance while performing the security task.
  • It is top in the list of AV-tests that symbolize; best in performance, protection, and usability.
  • The Parental Control feature is quite good and the additional scan option enhanced the security features.
  • It is user-friendly and easy to use.

Windows Defender Disadvantages

  • The score in the phishing test is not up to the mark.
  • SmartScreen feature is limited to Edge browser only.
  • The security features are basic ones and need advanced security technology.

Is it good enough to protect your PC?

Yes, it is because Windows Defender gives you the essential security features that are necessary to protect the computer against malware, ransomware, phishing, and other viruses. The bonus point is; it is free of cost, so you are getting mixed security features (basic and advanced) to safeguard the devices.

Windows Defender Alternatives and Competitors

There are multiple great options to go with instead of Microsoft Defender. We recommend with those that have shown great results on hands-on testing. Some of reliable options:

  • Kaspersky
  • Norton
  • AVG
  • McAfee.

Common Questions

Now, it’s time to see what the users are thinking about Windows Defender and this information will help you to judge the product more wisely.

Do you need an antivirus if you use a MacBook?

macOS-based devices are better equipped to fight viruses on their own, but even Mac cannot handle some of the advanced threats existing today and there isn’t much it can do against phishing. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended to use an antivirus product for Mac.

How to erase Windows Defender software?

Windows Defender is an integer par of Windows OS so you can’t uninstall it altogether but you can deactivate it. Just turn off real-time and cloud-delivered protection and the conflict with other software will not occur.

Windows Defender Turn Off Option
  • Press the Start menu key, enter Windows Security in the search bar, and further press the Enter key.
  • In the next window, you will get a few security options, click on Virus and Threat Protection.
  • In this window, you will get the manage settings option, click on it.
  • After that, you will find additional settings, move to Real-time protection and toggle the radio button in off mode. Repeat the task for cloud-delivered protection, Tamper protection, and Automatic Sample Submission.
  • Now, scroll down the page, move to the Exclusion section and click on Add or remove exclusion button. Select your C:\ drive and this means your drive is excluded from protection.

Note: If you have not installed any other antivirus on your computer, then real-time protection will get enabled after restarting the computer.

Is it a Scam, or is it Legit?

Microsoft is not a name, it’s a brand and its products are completely legit ones, including Windows Defender. So, definitely, you can trust Microsoft as it has a huge community network and the users are applauding its products.

Is there a Windows Defender free trial?

Windows Defender ATP (Advanced Threat Protection) is a premium plan for enterprises and it comes with free trials. It gives protection against malware and other potential threats. But if you want to use Windows Defender for personal use, then you don’t have to spend a single penny because this utility is pre-installed.

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