Microsoft Defender Antivirus Review 2024

Our Verdict

Microsoft Defender Antivirus offers strong, basic protection

Microsoft Defender is a robust antivirus solution for those looking for basic free protection. Is Microsoft Defender enough? Potentially, but it can’t provide multi-layered cybersecurity on its own and lacks some key features.

For those with relatively straightforward security requirements, like home users, Microsoft Defender Antivirus is capable of providing a decent level of protection. This is especially true if you implement good security practices and perform regular updates. For those with more complex security requirements, we recommend opting for a third-party solution like TotalAV.

Pros

  • Built into the Windows OS
  • Free to use
  • Strong testing scores
  • Integration with Windows Security
  • Receives regular updates

Cons

  • Missing extra features
  • Resource intensive at times
  • Only offers basic protection
  • Limited to Windows machines

In this Microsoft Defender Antivirus review, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the cybersecurity tool. But is Windows’ Defender enough? In a world where online threats are evolving at an alarming pace, it’s natural to wonder whether the antivirus solution is enough to protect you.

Microsoft Defender Antivirus is part of the Windows Security suite and was formerly known as Windows Defender. It’s one of the most widely used antivirus solutions today, thanks to the fact it’s built into Windows. With the increasing sophistication of online threats, including malware and ransomware, however, you shouldn’t necessarily rely on it on its own.

In this Microsoft Defender review, we’ll cover its strengths and weaknesses and the protection it provides against online threats.

What is Microsoft Defender Antivirus?

Microsoft Defender Antivirus, formerly Windows Defender, is an antivirus security solution developed by Microsoft and built into Windows. It provides real-time protection against threats, including viruses, malware, spyware, and other forms of malicious software, and monitors your system for suspicious activity.
Windows Defender's home page
The Windows Security and the Microsoft Defender Antivirus home page

The Windows Security suite also contains the Windows Firewall and receives regular updates. It can perform automatic scans of your machine to ensure your computer is kept safe at all times.

It’s important to note that it only offers basic protection, though, which is why we recommend opting for commercial solutions that can offer more advanced features to enhance your overall online security and provide multi-layered protection.

Confusingly, there’s also a product called Microsoft Defender, which is part of the paid Microsoft 365 subscription package.

Microsoft Defender Antivirus’ Performance

For an antivirus solution to receive high marks from us, it needs to be able to perform well under testing.

This means pitting it against real-world threats like zero-day malware attacks, considering its impact on system performance, and looking at its usability and the frequency with which it incorrectly flags items as threats.

Here’s how Windows Security and Microsoft Defender Antivirus performed against the best antivirus solutions on the market under assessment by AV-Test.

Antivirus Solution Protection Performance Usability
Microsoft Defender Antivirus 6/6 6/6 6/6
TotalAV 6/6 5.5/6 6/6
Norton 6/6 5.5/6 5.5/6
TrendMicro 6/6 6/6 5/6
Avast 6/6 6/6 6/6
Malwarebytes 5.5/6 5.5/6 6/6

Microsoft Defender Antivirus caught 100% of zero-day threats and prevalent malware, had limited system impact, and didn’t issue any false warnings under testing.

These are good results, especially if you consider that it’s a free antivirus solution – and the firewall and real-time protection work as expected. Is Microsoft Defender good enough? It’s certainly a good start if nothing else.

However, to fully take advantage of these features, you’ll need to stick to using Microsoft products. That means the Windows Security suite won’t protect you if you use Chrome instead of Edge as your default browser.

It also doesn’t offer as many features as third-party solutions, either. For example, the best antivirus solutions often come bundled with a VPN, a password manager, dark web monitoring, and identity theft protection to deliver comprehensive security.

Microsoft Defender Antivirus’ Security Features

Microsoft has worked hard over the years to improve the capabilities of Microsoft Defender Antivirus. It’s easy to use, and minimal setup is needed. You’ll have access to the following features with Windows’ Defender security center:

Real-Time Protection and Scans

Microsoft Defender Antivirus monitors your system continuously to look for suspicious activity and files, providing you with real-time protection against threats, including viruses and malware.

It scans files, programs, and network activity, and as soon as you open a file or program, Microsoft Defender Antivirus will check it for any signs of malicious activity.

Windows Defender's virus and threat protection screen
Microsoft Defender Antivirus’s virus and threat protection screen

The Windows antivirus includes:

  • Full Scans – Checks all files and programs on your device
  • Custom Scans – Scans specified files and folders
  • Quick Scans – Checks the most commonly infected files and processes
  • Microsoft Defender Offline Scans – Checks your machine offline and is useful in the event you’re already infected
  • Individual File Scans – In File Explorer, right-click on an individual file or folder and select “Scan with Microsoft Defender” to check it for malware

If the Windows antivirus detects anything suspicious, it immediately alerts you of the issue. You’ll also get the option to take action by either quarantining the threat or completely removing it from your system.

Firewall Protection

Windows Defender's firewall and network protection
Windows Security’s firewall and network protection

Windows Security comes equipped with a firewall to help block unauthorized access to your computer. This enhances your overall network security and adds a layer of protection against anyone trying to hijack your system.

SmartScreen

Windows Defender's SmartScreen feature
Windows Security’s SmartScreen feature

This feature protects you from phishing sites and malicious downloads. It works by analyzing websites and file downloads in real time, essentially acting as a second firewall that blocks access to unsafe or suspicious content.

Controlled Folder Access

Windows Defender's Controlled Folder Access feature
Windows Security’s Controlled Folder Access feature

This Windows Security tool can keep important system folders and sensitive files safe by preventing unauthorized access, blocking hackers and ransomware.

You can also specify which folders to protect so that only trusted applications can make changes. This enables you to tailor protection to your specific needs.

Device Performance and Health

Windows Defender's device performance and health screen
Windows Security’s device performance and health screen

Other than monitoring your network and files, Windows Security also monitors the overall health of your computer. It offers recommendations and guidance on how to keep your system secure, inspecting storage, battery life, and apps and software.

Automatic Updates

Updates for Windows Security are frequent and provide the latest virus definitions and security enhancements to ensure the antivirus can identify and block the latest threats. These updates can be pushed out multiple times a day, which indicates just how fast threats evolve.

Windows Security Center Integration

Microsoft Defender Antivirus is integrated with the larger Windows Security Center, which offers a central location to manage different security settings and features.

You can even get access to the Microsoft Family Safety tools with the “Family options” tab in the security center. With these, you can control whether your children can access specific apps and web pages.

Is Windows Security Enough?

People have been asking for years, “Is Windows Defender enough?” The answer to this depends on your online habits and behavior.

If you practice safe internet usage by avoiding suspicious downloads and email attachments and ensuring your software remains up to date, then Microsoft Defender Antivirus may be enough.

Microsoft Defender Antivirus is completely free to use, so you have nothing to lose. If you have a Windows machine, it’s very likely to already be enabled and working.

Many antivirus solutions work alongside Windows Security, and having a second layer of security is never a bad idea, regardless of your internet habits.

Third-party solutions give you access to more advanced security features like phishing protection, identity theft protection, and a whole lot more. Some tests have also shown Windows Security has a chance of blocking legitimate software from working.

Experts recommend you use a reputable antivirus alongside Windows Security in passive mode so you can benefit from additional protection. If you install a third-party solution, Microsoft Defender Antivirus will go into inactive mode, and the handover is extremely simple.

What You Won’t Get With Windows Security

Windows Security has a range of security features, but you’ll find it lacks some important features when compared to other antivirus solutions, including:

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Many solutions bundle their antivirus packages with a VPN, which adds a layer of protection while you’re on the internet. Microsoft has yet to include this, however. The best VPNs are fantastic tools for security and privacy and often come with 256-bit AES encryption to protect your data and mask your IP address.

Password Manager

Password managers have become increasingly popular for managing online accounts. They can keep all your passwords in a secure location and auto-populate login pages, so you’ll never need to remember your passwords again.

The best password managers can generate strong, unique passwords for new accounts and keep them secure.

Dark Web Monitoring

Hackers use the dark web – which is only accessible with specialized software like Tor – to sell compromised data. If your details get leaked, it could have a devastating impact on your life.

That’s why it’s disappointing that Windows Security doesn’t offer data breach monitoring. This can detect if your data has been compromised or if there’s been an attempt to steal your identity before alerting you so you can take action. Early detection is a crucial step in preventing further damage being done.

Windows Security – Compatibility and Ease of Use

If you’re wondering how to set up Microsoft Defender Antivirus, there’s no need as it’s built-in, and there’s nothing you need to do – it runs in the background with no configuration or user interaction required.

Windows Security and the Microsoft Defender Antivirus are extremely easy to use and are set to run and update automatically. If you install a third-party antivirus solution, Defender Antivirus will switch to inactive mode to prevent any potential conflicts or system impact.

The security suite is only available for Windows 10 and 11. On the other hand, Microsoft Defender, in the Microsoft 365 package, is available for Windows, Android, Mac, and iOS.

    Best Practices for Using Windows Security

    To maximize the effectiveness of MS Defender, you should implement best practices for optimizing your computer security and take steps such as ensuring Windows is kept up to date with automatic updates and scans are scheduled.

    Other vital practices include a Windows Defender review to ensure all features are enabled. Turn on real-time protection, use the controlled folder access feature, enable SmartScreen, and ensure you use strong passwords. You might also consider using third-party solutions like a VPN for added security.

    You should also use your own intuition. For example, if you receive an email with an attachment, it’s best not to download it unless you’re confident it’s safe. Also, try to avoid suspicious websites. If you find yourself on a site you don’t trust, run a scan immediately.

    Alternatives to Microsoft Defender Antivirus aka Windows Defender

    EDITOR’s CHOICE

    TotalAV – Outstanding Antivirus Software for Complete Protection, Including Password Manager and VPN

    • Minimal system impact
    • Unlimited VPN bandwidth
    • Excellent phishing protection

    Let’s take a look at some of the best Microsoft Defender Antivirus alternatives. These are excellent options to pair up with Windows’ Defender as they have features the Microsoft antivirus software is missing.

    Antivirus Software Starting Price Independent Test Max Devices Free Version Top 3 Features
    TotalAV $19/yr 17.5/18 6 Free scan – Identity Protection
    – System Optimization
    – Password Manager
    Norton $29.99/yr 17/18 Unlimited 30-day trial – 100% Virus Protection Promise
    – Encrypted Storage
    – Password Manager
    Trend Micro $19.95/yr 17/18 10 30-day trial, free tools – Secure Browser
    – Usability
    – Password Manager
    Avast $49.99/yr 18/18 30 Free plan – Great Free Plan
    – Webcam Shield
    – Strong Mobile Apps
    Malwarebytes $44.99/yr 17/18 20 Free plan, 14-day trial – Free Plan & Trial
    – Browser Guard
    – Ad Blocker

    These solutions have lots to offer, which makes them powerful choices for those looking for antivirus protection. We suggest you pair Microsoft Defender Antivirus with one of these solutions, which will provide a second layer of security.

    Third-party antivirus solutions also offer the ability to cover multiple devices on a single subscription. This results in more control over your devices’ security while keeping all the required information in a central dashboard for easy monitoring.

    In contrast, the Microsoft antivirus, Defender, only protects the device it’s on and can’t extend its capabilities to other devices, such as mobile phones or tablets.

    More Antivirus Guides

    Having explored Windows Security and Microsoft Defender Antivirus, you might be interested in investigating other antivirus solutions.

    Our experts have put together a host of antivirus guides covering a wide range of different solutions for different platforms and use cases so you can compare Windows’ Defender vs McAfee, among a range of others. Our guides include:

    FAQs

    Is Microsoft Defender Antivirus any good?

    Is Windows Security enough on its own?

    Is Microsoft Defender Antivirus free?

    Does Windows 11 need antivirus protection?

    Is Windows Security good enough for small business needs?

    Can Microsoft Defender Antivirus remove malware?

    Justin Van Gent
    Technology Writer

    As an experienced freelance writer for Techopedia.com, Justin strives to provide accurate, informative comparisons and reviews on both B2B and B2C tech solutions — ranging from product reviews to CRMs, security software, and beyond.