Windows Defender Review: Is this PC Antivirus Enough in 2020?

Sophie Anderson
Sophie Anderson
Published on: September 17, 2020

Detailed Expert Review

Windows Defender comes pre-installed on all PCs, and for a free antivirus, it’s not bad. It’s definitely not the best free antivirus (there are better), but it’s OK if you’re not doing anything important on your Windows machine. That said, it’s still a free antivirus.

It doesn’t get updated often, doesn’t provide advanced protection against most malware threats, and has no accountability — you can’t complain to Microsoft if your PC gets hacked. I do not now and have never trusted Windows Defender to keep my computer secure. I recommend that most people don’t deal with the frustrations and risks of a free antivirus (especially one which comes pre-installed), and instead opt for a low-cost premium antivirus like Norton 360.

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. Does this built-in tool have enough functionality to protect against these, or should you look elsewhere? Here’s what I found out during my evaluation.

Security

Windows Defender Security Center provides basic 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. Additionally, the program 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.

Strong Endorsement from Testing Labs

After evaluating Windows Defender over three days, I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of features in this free default tool. I’m also not the only one that thinks highly of it: independent laboratory AV-Test has frequently ranked Defender within their top ten solutions for virus detection, and the program achieved a perfect score for malware removal (my test samples were all detected).

The one caveat: 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 popups, 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.

Speaking of ransomware, there’s also 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. But there’s no protection against actual ransomware threats, just an integration with another (paid) Microsoft product.

Features

In addition to virus and threat protection, Windows Defender also includes Windows Defender Firewall with Advanced Security. This tool isn’t particularly user-friendly but does allow you to create and administer comprehensive firewall rules for both inbound and outbound protections. Firewalls are vital for protecting the security of your local network, so I was impressed that Microsoft’s tool was so comprehensive.

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.

Feature-Rich Parental Control Options

What really impressed me is the fact that Defender includes a comprehensive parental control filter. These 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.

While the parental controls are OK for a free antivirus, they’re nothing like the ones you’d get with Norton or Panda.

Ease of use

Windows Defender comes pre-installed on every Windows PC and, if no other antiviruses are installed, is automatically enabled. Naturally, this means that there’s no installation required. The program offers protection right out of the box. Settings are administered in two areas: the Windows Defender Security Center, which includes virus scanning, parental control, 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 fast and straightforward to use.

Support

Windows Defender is a factory-installed component, so Microsoft will resolve any issue you may encounter. The online Help and FAQ Center contains guides on how to set up scans and resolve common difficulties. If that fails to resolve the issue, users can “talk” to the Microsoft Virtual Agent (which was able to understand my question on the first try, and also directed me to the exact support resource I required to configure my scan). Finally, users have access to Microsoft’s global support network, which includes both telephone support and a ticket-based system. It’s fair to say that if you encounter a problem with Windows Defender, Microsoft has more than enough resources to get you unstuck.

That said, Microsoft explicitly states in their Terms and Conditions that they are not responsible for your computer’s protection if it becomes infected with malware. Compare this with a substantially better antivirus like McAfee or Norton who both have a “Virus Protection Promise”.

Pricing

Windows Defender and all its components are included in the Windows operating system. The tool provides some seriously impressive functionality and I appreciated the fact that Microsoft does not attempt to upsell within the tool.

But the reason they don’t try to upsell you is because there’s nothing more to offer! In short, it’s basic protection, and if you’re relying on your PC for important things — work, online shopping, data storage, communication, etc. — Windows Defender is not going to keep you protected. There are other free Windows antiviruses which work well, but in general, free antiviruses are not meant to offer complete device protection. For that, you’ll need a premium antivirus — luckily, many of them are cheap, powerful, and 100% secure.

Windows Defender Products & Pricing

Windows Defender
Bottom Line

For some basic PC users, there’s nothing wrong with relying on Windows Defender as an antivirus and internet security suite. But for the vast majority of people — those who need their PC for work, for online shopping and banking, for communicating with friends and family, etc. — Windows Defender is not good. Since my PC has a ton of personal and sensitive information (banking info, passwords, photos, music/video files, etc.), I don’t trust using a free antivirus. My top recommendation of 2020 for Windows users is Norton 360. It’s inexpensive, reputable, has a ton of extra features, and offers guaranteed protection from every kind of malware.

About the Author

Sophie Anderson
Sophie Anderson
Cybersecurity researcher and tech journalist

About the Author

Sophie Anderson has spent the last 10 years working as a software engineer for some of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley. She now works as a cybersecurity consultant and tech journalist, helping everyday netizens understand how to stay safe and protected in an online world.

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Windows Defender User Reviews

19 7
Based on 26 reviews in 10 languages 3.9
Language
You can trust the Community! Companies can't ask us to delete or change user reviews.
Aug. 12, 2020
Chris Cummings
Chris Cummings
United States
5.0
Good Enough
Windows User
Does a decent job. It is FREE. Easy to use and configure. It is There already. That being said I use Malwarebytes Premium and back that up with a Hitmanpro subscription, sometimes I will switch to Panda Free Av. Myself, I do not like all the extra BLOAT that comes with paid for traditional AV. Chris Cummings USA Ret.
James Martin
James Martin
Australia
5.0
Best AV out there
Windows User
There are a lot of people out there that will tell you how great Norton is, or Kaspersky, and how - because you are paying for security software there is some liability on behalf of the security company when it fails. This is not true. Symantec will tell you "So sad for your loss. Give us more money. Maybe it will work next time". I know, I've been there more than once after businesses have already lost everything.

And look, you don't have to believe me. I've just been a computer engineer for over 25 years with Enterprise technology, whether that be Wintel or *nix, embedded or mainframe. What would I know about computers, IT and security? I've only built some of the worlds largest computer war-game environments that specifically allow ma...Show More
Pretty decent
Windows User
today it deleted malware files it was a trojan file and it detected it, prevented it from executing and deleted it when I wanted to. I think I'm safe with it for a while.
Aashish Trivedi
Aashish Trivedi
Canada
4.0
Performance needs to be reviewed again as of June 2019
Android User
Dear James, thanks for the great review, I like it.
Since last week, 12Jun19 Windows defender has performance issues. While it's running, it will slow down my laptop top resulting in frozen screen. I can't run it while I am using some applications like YT. Can you please research and comment?
user avatar
Jack Li Aashish Trivedi
The reason that it slows down is that your CPU is bottlenecking. Like any other program, Windows Defender uses your CPU. If your laptop CPU is especially weak, then it would be hard to use any other program. You can use task manag...Show More
R.A. Carey
R.A. Carey
United States
5.0
Windows Defender Found Viruses better than the plan i bought
Windows User
I have Windows Defender with my Windows 10 system, it does a deeper clean than Spectrum Virus Scan, Spectrum never found any threats but Defender always does!
Sue
Sue
United States
1.0
Windows defender is not real
Windows User
Microsoft bought giant out.Why they tell everybody theres a an antivirus in there I dont know.But it is a lie
user avatar
Chuck Balogh Sue
Your comment is very negative. Can you support it with more information. I want to know what everyone thinks but you don't give much more than "an opinion" at this point. Please embellish.
user avatar
Brian Hamilton Chuck Balogh
Jun. 26, 2020
Microsoft knows that ransomware runs on non-secure power-shell commands. If Microsoft was truly concerned about ransomware they would only allow secure power-shell commands to run and ALL non-secure power-shell commands would not ...Show More
user avatar
Chuck Balogh Brian Hamilton
Jun. 29, 2020
Hi Brian. Thanks for you reply. I know that the Windows Defender claim to stop Ransomware is a bit deal. It surely caught my eye.
I'm not sure why the fact that Power-shell commands can run on non-secured systems is a Windo...Show More
Bilwediz
Bilwediz
United Kingdom
5.0
Top Class
iOS User
Satya Nadella said Windows 10 would be the most secure Windows ever. It’s getting there. The acquisition of Israeli Technology like Hexadite coincided with the improvement. The Firm was set up by three Ex Army Technicians and they are the best NIL SATIS NISI OPTIMUM. Well done Redmond

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