Updated on: February 1, 2023
Short on time? Here’s the best Windows Defender alternative:
Microsoft’s Windows Defender provides decent cloud-based malware detection 100% free of charge — but you need to consider these 3 questions before deciding whether to keep it or get a third-party antivirus:
- Can Windows Defender handle all types of malware, including advanced ones like ransomware and spyware?
- Is it fast enough to remove threats without slowing down your PC?
- Is it good enough to use as a standalone antivirus, or is there something better?
I spent several weeks testing Microsoft’s Defender and all of the top antivirus programs on the market, ranking them on malware detection rates, system performance, scan speeds, overall internet security protection, and customer support.
I can honestly say Microsoft’s Defender isn’t good enough. There are several antivirus programs that are much better. For example, brands like Norton offer more effective malware scanners, more intuitive Windows apps, and more advanced cybersecurity protections.
Quick summary of the best alternatives to Microsoft’s Windows Defender in 2023:
- 1.🥇 Norton — Best antivirus alternative to Windows Defender in 2023.
- 2.🥈 Bitdefender — Better anti-malware engine with a lot of additional features.
- 3.🥉 McAfee — Better web protection (including a customizable firewall & Wi-Fi scanner).
- 4. TotalAV — Easier to use with better malware detection rates (and excellent PC tune-up).
- 5. Avira — Best free alternative with a more effective anti-malware scanner.
- Numbers 6-10 of the best Defender alternatives.
- Comparison of the Best Alternatives to Windows Defender.
Is Microsoft’s Defender Antivirus Good Enough?
There are many reasons to like Windows Defender — especially as Microsoft has worked really hard to improve it over the last few years. It now offers:
- Real-time threat detection.
- Firewall & network protection.
- Protection against phishing sites.
- System performance reports.
- Hardware security.
- Parental controls.
Microsoft’s Defender is pretty good at detecting malware files, blocking exploits and network-based attacks, and flagging phishing sites. It even includes simple PC performance and health reports as well as parental controls with content filtering, usage limitations, and location tracking. Because Windows Defender now includes all of these useful features, users are wondering whether they can rely on Defender alone to protect their computers or need to use a third-party antivirus.
To find out whether Defender is good enough, I ran it through the same rigorous tests I use for all third-party antivirus products. I downloaded around a thousand malware files — including viruses, trojans, ransomware, adware, cryptojackers, keyloggers, and rootkits — in order to test the disk scanning and real-time protection functions.
I also navigated to dozens of phishing sites on a few different browsers to assess Defender’s anti-phishing capabilities, and I simulated exploit and network-based attacks to test Microsoft’s built-in firewall and network protections.
In addition to all of this testing, I measured CPU performance during various situations — like while using high-powered programs during disk scans — and tested every feature to assess its overall ease of use.
In the end, I found a ton of issues with Microsoft’s Defender — here are my main complaints:
- Malware detection rates are lower than many third-party competitors.
- Content filters are limited to the Microsoft Edge browser.
- The main user interface is clunky and hard to navigate.
- PC system health report is basic (no performance-boosting or system cleanup).
- Lacks additional tools that third-party antiviruses have, like a VPN, password manager, dark web monitoring, and identity theft protection.
Microsoft Defender is closer than it’s ever been to competing with third-party antiviruses — but it’s still not good enough. And it’s certainly not good enough compared to dedicated antivirus programs like Norton and Bitdefender. These programs solely focus on malware protection, blocking the latest internet security threats, and improving general PC performance.
If you value the security of your PC and all of your online accounts, you need to invest in higher-quality internet security software.
What Features Are Missing From Windows Defender?
The latest version of Windows Defender comes with many security features, but it lacks features that other antiviruses include. Here’s a short list of key features that Windows Defender lacks:
- A virtual private network (VPN).
- Identity theft protection.
- Dark web monitoring.
- Anti-theft protection.
- Webcam/microphone protection.
- System optimization tools.
- Password manager.
- And more…
Defender’s lack of a VPN is a huge disappointment. A VPN protects your online privacy from trackers and allows you to access public networks securely. Norton, Bitdefender, McAfee, and TotalAV all include a VPN. I particularly like Norton’s VPN, which uses 256-bit AES encryption to protect your data and comes with various features such as a kill switch (that disconnects your internet if the VPN connection drops), unlimited data, and more.
I’d also like to see a few system optimization tools included in Windows Defender. Defender offers a basic PC health report, but it can’t speed up your PC. Competitors like Norton, Bitdefender, and TotalAV all include features that can make your computer run quicker — such as cleaning up junk, temporary, and duplicate files.
Finally, with the release of Defender on Android and iOS, I’d love to see anti-theft protection. Currently, Windows Defender doesn’t offer any way to track or lock a stolen laptop or mobile device. Again, other competitors already include anti-theft tracking capabilities. For example, Bitdefender enables users to sound an alarm on a lost device, lock it, and even wipe the device’s hard drive.
While Defender offers some good features, it’s severely lacking in other areas. You’re much better off choosing one of the alternatives below.
🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Antivirus Alternative to Microsoft’s Windows Defender in 2023
Norton 360 is better than Windows Defender in every aspect — it has higher malware detection rates, better internet security protections, more additional features, and coverage for more platforms.
In my head-to-head malware test, Norton caught way more malware files than Defender — Norton scored a perfect 100% malware detection rate, blocking several tricky spyware and ransomware files that Defender missed.
And when it comes to internet security tools, Defender just can’t compete. Norton 360 includes:
- Stronger anti-phishing protection.
- More complete parental controls.
- Extra features like a VPN (virtual private network) and password manager.
- And a lot more…
Norton’s anti-phishing protections are among the best around. They caught a significantly larger number of suspicious websites in my tests than Defender — including malicious links in emails and text messages. Microsoft recently expanded Defender’s web protections to third-party browsers like Chrome and Firefox, but they’re nowhere near as good as Norton’s.
What’s more, Norton 360 also has a wide range of additional features that Windows Defender doesn’t have — including an excellent VPN that provides encrypted access to servers in 30+ countries around the globe, barely affects internet speed, and removes geo-restrictions. Norton also has a really good password manager with all of the essentials, like auto-saving, auto-filling, and biometric login.
Plus, Norton offers far superior parental controls, which are also some of the best on the market. For example, you get web filtering (you can monitor the sites your kid visits and even block them) for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge browser extensions — Windows’s web filters only work with Edge. Norton also conveniently displays 45+ website categories that you can monitor and block like alcohol, crime, and pornography. Another thing I really like about Norton is that it logs all of the videos that your kid watches on YouTube and provides information about each video such as the name of the video and a link to it.
At $49.99 / year, Norton 360 Deluxe is the best-value package — it covers 5 devices and includes excellent parental controls, which offer location tracking as well as the ability to block and schedule usage for specific apps. Starting at $99.99 / year, Norton 360 with LifeLock (US only) adds a $1 million identity theft insurance policy. There’s also a specialized plan for PC gamers that has an advanced game booster and performance optimizer for improved gameplay. All of Norton’s plans come with a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
Norton 360 is the best Windows security suite on the market — it provides a substantial improvement on all of Defender’s protections, and it offers a ton of extras that Microsoft doesn’t include with its built-in antivirus. Norton is also easier to use than Windows Defender, has a variety of pricing plans for every budget, and offers a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
🥈2. Bitdefender — Better Cloud-Based Scanning Engine (With Excellent Additional Features)
Bitdefender is fast, lightweight, and has a much better cloud-based scanning engine than Microsoft’s Defender. Its malware scanner caught all of my test malware during a full system scan, and it barely had any impact on my computer’s performance. Even though Windows Defender is also partially cloud-based, it still slowed down my system during scans.
Bitdefender is also more hands-off than Defender. A lot of users don’t want to upgrade to a third-party antivirus because they think it will be more complicated than Windows Defender’s automatic security protections — but you don’t have to worry about this with Bitdefender. Its “Autopilot” feature automatically analyzes your files, your network, and your online activity to create a set of default protections that run seamlessly in the background.
Here are some of Bitdefender’s additional security features:
- Better web protection.
- Simpler interface.
- Better parental controls.
- Extra tools like VPN, password manager, webcam protection, PC tune-up, etc.
Bitdefender has some of the strongest web protection of any antivirus on the market. It prevented me from visiting phishing sites, as well as sites that contain downloadable malware. Another cool feature is Bitdefender’s secure browser, Safepay, which has robust tools to keep your online financial information safe during banking sessions or when you make online purchases (Windows Defender doesn’t have this feature). Safepay prevents hackers from remotely accessing your computer, doesn’t let you take screenshots, blocks keystroke tracking, and automatically fills out credit card information in billing fields.
Bitdefender also comes with great microphone and webcam protection that Windows fails to offer. It will alert you if any unauthorized app attempts to access your webcam or microphone, and you can then decide whether or not to block the app. You can also set up a list of safe websites that are allowed to access both tools, such as Zoom, WhatsApp, and Skype.
Its VPN is extremely fast, providing better connection speeds than a lot of standalone VPNs (which is why Bitdefender is ranked as one of the best antiviruses with a VPN). The parental controls are also excellent — they provide app usage limits, online content filtering, and even geo-fencing which alerts you when your children’s devices leave a safe area.
Bitdefender’s premium Total Security includes more features than almost any antivirus, for only $35.99 / year. Users on a budget can also check out Bitdefender’s less advanced antivirus packages, which start at $23.99 / year — they’re cheaper than most competitors and still offer really good PC protection. And users who want all of Bitdefender’s premium features, plus the VPN with no data limitations and a fully-featured password manager, should check out Bitdefender’s top-tier Premium Security suite ($59.99 / year). Bitdefender’s plans are covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Bitdefender has a powerful cloud-based anti-malware scanner with perfect detection rates as well as a ton of really good internet security features that expand on Microsoft’s basic protections. It has anti-phishing, a VPN, parental controls, a password manager, system tuneup tools, microphone and webcam protections, and lots more, all inside a well-laid-out and intuitive dashboard. All of its plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
🥉3. McAfee — Better Web Protection (With Data Cleanup Tools)
McAfee Total Protection is an excellent internet security suite with much better web protections and network safeguards than Windows Defender. Its web protections caught 100% of the verified phishing sites I tried to access — far better than Microsoft Edge’s built-in browser protections. Its malware scanner is also one of the best on the market, outperforming Windows’s antivirus and catching 99% of the nearly 1,000 malware files on my PC.
McAfee also offers a huge improvement over the built-in protections included with Windows 10 — it has:
- More advanced firewall.
- Wi-Fi security scanner.
- System optimization.
- Personal data cleanup tool.
- Identity theft protection.
McAfee’s “Smart Firewall” provides a ton of options that Defender doesn’t offer. You can use the Smart Access feature to let McAfee’s firewall analyze incoming and outgoing threats, activate the Stealth Mode to hide your PC on public networks, or use Lockdown in an emergency to block all traffic into and out of your computer.
There’s also an excellent Wi-Fi scanner that actively scans your network to let you know which devices are currently logged into your Wi-Fi network. The Wi-Fi scanner even offers notifications if new users try to gain access to your network. Additionally, McAfee’s VPN is secure, easy to use, and good for streaming, but it’s not as fast as Bitdefender.
McAfee also provides a personal data cleanup service, which guides you on removing your personal data from data brokerages that are selling your details for profit — even many top antiviruses don’t offer this feature, let alone Windows Defender.
There’s also identity theft protection, which monitors the dark web in real-time and alerts you if any of your personally identifying information is leaked — and it keeps tabs on a wide range of your information, including email addresses, credit card numbers, your social security number, and more. I also like how McAfee provides you with steps you need to take to fix the breach and gives you tips on how to avoid one in the future.
McAfee Advanced, which is priced at $89.99 / year, offers access to up to $1 million in identity theft coverage. It also includes assistance with canceling and replacing IDs and credit cards in case of a lost or stolen wallet, and the security freeze feature, which stops unauthorized people from opening accounts in your name, like credit card, bank, and utility accounts. Identity theft protection is available in over 20 countries, including the US, UK, Japan, South Africa, India, and Australia.
Starting at $39.99 / year, McAfee Total Protection is available for 5 or unlimited devices. Both individual and family plans are covered by a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
McAfee provides an excellent anti-malware engine with lots of internet security extras that Windows Defender doesn’t have. The Smart Firewall, Wi-Fi scanner, VPN, and anti-phishing protections are all significantly better than Microsoft’s built-in tools. And the addition of system optimization and personal data cleanup tools, as well as excellent identity theft features, makes McAfee a much better alternative to Windows Defender. All of McAfee’s plans are available with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
4. TotalAV — Easier to Use (With Great Performance Optimization Tools)
TotalAV has better detection rates and is much easier to use than Microsoft’s Windows Defender. Its malware engine is lightweight, fast, and constantly updated to detect the latest malware threats. In my tests, it identified and removed more than 99% of the malware samples I downloaded to my virtual PC, including sophisticated malware files like ransomware and cryptojackers that Windows Defender missed.
I also found it very easy to access and use all of TotalAV’s features and functionalities — the dashboard is more intuitive, simpler to navigate, and better designed than Windows Defender, making TotalAV a particularly good choice for non-tech-savvy users.
The system cleanup tools are some of the best on the market, and they include a ton of useful features, like a junk cleaner, application uninstaller, startup manager, and browser cleanup. With all of these features included in the same convenient window, I was able to get my nephew’s slow Acer laptop running like new in a matter of minutes.
TotalAV’s VPN, called Safe Browsing VPN, is one of the best VPNs offered by an antivirus. It has unlimited data (so you can surf, stream, and torrent as much as you want), all of the industry-standard VPN security features (like bank-grade encryption and a kill switch), and very fast speeds. It also works with all of the top streaming services, including Netflix, and it allows torrenting on all servers.
The identity theft protection is very good too, but it only covers US users (like Norton) — competitors such as McAfee cover many different locations, including Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, NZ, and some European countries.
My favorite TotalAV plan is Total Security, which costs $49.00 / year and includes all of TotalAV’s features — but users looking for a more affordable option can opt for TotalAV Antivirus Pro ($19.00 / year) and Internet Security ($39.00 / year), which both offer a good set of features at an affordable price. All TotalAV plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
TotalAV is much easier to use than Windows Defender and comes with good malware protection, great PC optimization tools to enhance device performance, and a top-notch VPN. I like TotalAV’s premium identity theft protection as well, but it’s only available on TotalAV’s premium Total Security plan. If you’re interested, you can try TotalAV with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
5. Avira — More (and Better) Free Features
Avira Free Security for Windows provides strong anti-malware scanning and tons of high-quality extra features inside its free version — it’s one of the best free Windows antiviruses on the market. Its cloud-based malware scanner performed really well during my tests, detecting 100% of the malware sample files on my device — far better than Windows Defender.
Avira’s free antivirus also includes features that Windows’s antivirus doesn’t provide, such as:
- Safe Shopping browser extension.
- Free VPN (with 500 MB of data per month).
- Extras like performance optimization tools & password manager.
I really like the Safe Shopping browser extension, which blocks web trackers, intrusive advertisements, and phishing sites — outperforming Windows Defender’s “SmartScreen” in terms of security and convenience. The extension also finds the best shopping deals, but this feature didn’t always work as intended during my tests.
Like TotalAV, Avira also comes with excellent system optimization tools that can significantly improve a slow or old computer’s performance — but only basic cleanup tools are available on the free version. The premium plans include the driver updater, which Defender doesn’t have. This tool detected two software updates on my PC that were overdue.
Avira also has a feature-rich free password manager, which is one of the best that you’ll find bundled with an antivirus package. In addition to having 256-bit AES encryption, unlimited password storage, and two-factor authentication, Avira’s password manager comes with a password generator, it auto-saves and auto-fills your passwords, and you can use it on an unlimited number of devices. Avira’s password manager is also really easy to use and navigate.
Avira Prime is the best package (and the only one that includes an unlimited-data VPN). At just $59.99 / year, it offers all of Avira’s features and coverage for up to 5 devices across all operating systems. All Avira plans include a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
Avira’s real-time detection and malware scanning engine performed much better than Microsoft’s Defender in my tests — it’s my favorite free alternative to Defender. Avira’s paid plans are really good, too, especially Avira Prime, which offers a VPN with unlimited data, a password manager that allows you to sync unlimited passwords across unlimited devices, advanced system tuneup, and coverage for up to 5 devices. Avira Prime comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee.
6. Kaspersky — More Advanced Parental Controls + Good Financial Protections
Kaspersky offers a good malware scanner and web protections that are more advanced than the ones offered by Defender. In terms of malware protection, Kaspersky ranks with the top antiviruses on the market, detecting malware more effectively than many competitors, including Microsoft’s Windows Defender.
Kaspersky has really good parental controls, too — much better than Defender’s — ranking with Norton, Bitdefender, and McAfee as the top antiviruses with parental controls. The parental controls provide device usage limits for Android users (the feature didn’t work in my iOS tests), online content filters, a search monitoring filter for YouTube, and geo-fencing controls to ensure your kids remain in a safe area.
There are also good financial protections with the Safe Money browser. This feature offers a sandboxed browser window and an on-screen keyboard for secure online transactions — it’s a simple and helpful way to improve online privacy. Kaspersky knew each time I was visiting a financial site and automatically offered to open the Safe Money browser, which blocks malware and spyware. The virtual keyboard is user-friendly and a great tool for locking out dangerous keyloggers. While Kaspersky’s Safe Money browser is a good security tool (that Windows Defender lacks), it’s not as good as Bitdefender’s.
Finally, Kaspersky also has some features that aren’t included with Windows Defender, like a password manager and an unlimited-data VPN. There’s also webcam protection, which alerts you whenever you visit a website or open an app (like Zoom) that uses your webcam, and microphone protection for certain apps.
Kaspersky Standard ($21.99 / year) and Kaspersky Plus ($29.99 / year) are pretty decent plans which cover up to 10 users, but families looking for good parental controls will want to upgrade to Kaspersky Premium ($30.99 / year), which covers up to 20 devices. However, keep in mind that the parental controls are only included in the Premium plan for the first year — after that, you’ll need to pay for them separately. Kaspersky backs all plans with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Kaspersky is a full-featured antivirus suite with a better malware scanner than Microsoft’s Defender, as well as some really useful security tools. The parental controls, secure financial protections, and password manager are all surprisingly good. All of Kaspersky’s plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
7. Panda — More Extras (and Flexible Pricing)
Panda Dome is a good anti-malware program with high detection rates, decent extra features, and various plans and payment options. In my testing, it detected malware about as accurately as Windows Defender, catching the majority of the malware files on my test PC, but it missed some newer adware and ransomware files that competitors like Norton caught.
Panda also includes a ton of extra features that Windows’s antivirus doesn’t offer, including a really good VPN — it uses Hotspot Shield’s VPN technology to provide fast and encrypted web access to servers in 20+ countries around the globe. Panda also includes:
- Virtual keyboard (for safeguarding against keyloggers).
- File shredder (to permanently delete files beyond recovery).
- File encryption.
- PC cleanup tools.
- Anti-theft tools (for Windows, Android, and iOS devices).
- Rescue Kit (removes malware from blocked PCs).
I’m a huge fan of Panda’s Rescue Kit, which is a bootable version of Panda you can save to a USB thumb drive. If a really bad malware infection occurs, the Rescue Kit can restart a computer and open Panda from the thumb drive, allowing you to use Panda’s cloud-based malware technology to disinfect the system. Although Defender has an offline scanner that scans your PC without booting your operating system, you can’t run it from a USB.
Another thing that impressed me was Panda’s anti-theft tools. Panda lets you remotely lock your devices and erase information from them, take a photo of the thief after 3 failed logins, and locate your lost device. It’s cool that Panda also works with Android smartwatches.
Panda is one of the few antiviruses that offer file encryption and file shredding, two features that Defender doesn’t offer. I encrypted some of my most sensitive files (like health records) so they were completely unreadable to a hacker or even someone else who may borrow my computer. When I wanted to make sure a file was permanently deleted and inaccessible, like my banking statement, Panda’s file shredder erased it with ease.
Panda offers 5 different packages, including a free plan for users on a budget. The paid plans start at $23.99 / year, and they all offer monthly, yearly, 2-year, and 3-year subscription options for 1, 3, 5, 10, or an unlimited number of devices. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all plans.
Panda Dome has a good antivirus scanner with an intuitive interface, decent additional features, and flexible payment options. It offers 5 different packages, monthly, annual, 2-year, and 3-year subscription options, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
8. Malwarebytes — Good Anti-Malware Protection for Budget Users
Malwarebytes offers advanced protection against a wide range of malware threats, including zero-day attacks and ransomware. Its scanning engine is just as high quality as top competitors like Norton — I was pleasantly surprised that Malwarebytes caught every single malware sample during my tests.
Malwarebytes’s dashboard is easier to use than Defender’s dashboard. This is to be expected, though — Malwarebytes doesn’t really have any extra features, besides an automatic anti-phishing filter (that works far better than Microsoft’s built-in protections).
Another area where Malwarebytes is superior to Defender is scheduling system scans. Malwarebytes has an easy-to-find Scanner tab, where it’s simple to start a quick scan, configure a custom scan, or schedule a scan. Defender, on the other hand, forces you to meander through annoying steps via the Task Scheduler app to schedule a scan. Inexperienced users may find this process difficult and confusing.
Users looking for an additional layer of online privacy will be happy with Malwarebytes’s VPN — it’s pretty good, providing encrypted access to servers around the globe. However, it wasn’t as fast as Bitdefender’s VPN in my testing, it doesn’t work with most streaming sites, and it doesn’t allow torrenting.
Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy offers malware protection and a secure VPN for $99.99 / year. There’s also Malwarebytes Premium, which only costs $44.99 / year, but it’s just a malware scanner. Malwarebytes offers a 60-day money-back guarantee on both plans.
Malwarebytes provides excellent malware protection and anti-phishing controls with a user-friendly dashboard, but not much else. Its scanning engine is as accurate as Norton, and the bundled VPN is also pretty good. Malwarebytes comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee.
9. Trend Micro — Good Phishing Protection
Trend Micro offers some notable improvements over Microsoft’s built-in protections. Its antivirus scanner performed well in my testing, catching around the same amount of malware as Microsoft’s Windows Defender and providing fast disk scans and lightweight real-time protection.
I also really like Trend Micro’s anti-phishing protection, which provides color-coded rankings for Google searches and automatically blocks unsafe links from emails, texts, and pop-up ads.
Trend Micro offers a few other good features that Defender lacks, including Pay Guard and Secure Erase. Pay Guard is Trend Micro’s secure browser for online transactions and is similar to Bitdefender’s Safepay browser and Avira’s Safe Shopping browser extensions — but not nearly as good. Secure Erase permanently wipes a file from your system, much like Panda’s file shredder feature.
I’m not a fan of Trend Micro’s parental controls and VPN. They’re ok, but they’re not nearly as good as the offerings from competitors like Norton and McAfee. Trend Micro’s parental controls offer very basic features like web and app filtering and setting time limits for devices, but there’s no geofencing, you can’t really monitor the videos your kid watches on YouTube, and the report screen doesn’t provide enough information. While the VPN is fast, works with a lot of streaming apps, and allows torrenting, it’s missing a kill switch, has a smaller server network, and has some connection issues.
Trend Micro offers 4 different plans. Antivirus+ Security ($19.95 / year) includes real-time protection, anti-phishing, and an email scam filter for 1 PC. Internet Security ($39.95 / year) adds parental controls and system tune-up for 3 PCs. Maximum Security ($49.95 / year) also includes a password manager for 5 PCs, Androids, iOS, or macOS devices, whereas Premium Security Suite ($59.95 / year) adds dark web monitoring, priority support, and the VPN for up to 10 devices. You get a 30-day money-back guarantee with all plans.
Trend Micro offers good malware detection rates and excellent anti-phishing protection, but its additional features are hit or miss. It’s definitely an improvement over Microsoft’s Windows Defender, but I wasn’t impressed with its parental controls or VPN. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee for all of Trend Micro’s plans.
10. ESET — Advanced Malware Detection & Anti-Theft Tools
ESET includes a very advanced anti-malware engine that thoroughly scans Windows systems. While its scan took longer than Windows Defender’s during my tests, ESET managed to detect malware samples that Defender missed.
ESET’s anti-theft feature also worked well — I set it up on my Windows HP laptop and I was able to remotely lock my device, track it via ESET’s online dashboard, display messages on the screen, and capture images of the thieves via my laptop’s built-in webcam. Windows Defender doesn’t include a similar feature.
Along with advanced malware detection, ESET also includes HIPS (Host Intrusion Prevention System), which is specially designed to detect hard-to-remove malware, such as ransomware and rootkits. HIPS worked well when I tested it, blocking the ransomware simulations and rootkits I tried to install.
ESET’s Smart Security Premium plan is a decent value for the price. Coverage for one device starts at $12.15 / year, but it’s relatively cheap to add extra devices to your plan. ESET comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
ESET provides advanced malware protection with near-perfect detection rates and a great anti-theft feature. The HIPS feature offers much-improved protection against hard-to-remove malware such as rootkits. The Smart Security Premium plan is a good value, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Comparison of the Best Alternatives to Windows Defender
|Antivirus||Starting Price||Free Version||Money-Back Guarantee||Standout Features||Biggest Advantage over Windows Defender|
|🥇1. Norton||$19.99 / year||❌||60 days||Password manager, dark web monitoring, parental controls, VPN||Excellent malware detection & wide range of additional features|
|🥈2. Bitdefender||$23.99 / year||❌||30 days||Ransomware remediation, webcam & mic protection, VPN, parental controls||Specialist ransomware protections & file restoration tools|
|🥉3. McAfee||$39.99 / year||❌||30 days||Firewall, Wi-Fi scanner||Advanced internet security tools|
|4. TotalAV||$19.00 / year||✅||30 days||Performance optimization tools, VPN||Easy-to-use interface with performance optimization tools|
|5. Avira||$45.99 / year||✅||60 days||System cleanup tools, password manager||Comprehensive system speedup tools|
|6. Kaspersky||$21.99 / year||✅||30 days||Parental controls||Includes more advanced parental controls|
|7. Panda||$23.99 / year||✅||30 days||Rescue Kit||Enables users to recover PCs blocked by malware|
|8. Malwarebytes||$37.49 / year||✅||60 days||/||Highly-accurate malware detection|
|9. Trend Micro||$19.95 / year||❌||30 days||Phishing protection||Shows phishing sites & malicious links using color-coded warnings|
||$12.15 / year||❌||30 days||Anti-theft tools, HIPS||Comes with anti-theft tools that can track, lock, and remotely capture photos via webcam|
How to Choose the Best Windows Defender Alternative in 2023
- Look for better malware protection. While Windows Defender is a good antivirus with a high malware detection rate, all of the best alternatives on this list have higher malware detection rates, especially against advanced ransomware, trojans, and spyware.
- Choose an antivirus with effective web protection. All of the best Windows Defender alternatives have excellent phishing protection, as well as protection from malicious sites and drive-by-download attacks. Windows Defender does include good web protection, but alternatives like Norton and McAfee were able to detect more malicious sites during my testing.
- Go for more security features. Windows Defender has introduced a range of new features in recent years. However, it still lacks many of the useful extra features offered by top brands like Norton and Bitdefender, including a password manager, a virtual private network (VPN), and system optimization tools.
- Find an antivirus with better parental controls. Windows offers a range of parental controls, but they are quite difficult to set up, some of them lack functionality, and the website content filtering only works in the Microsoft Edge browser. Antiviruses like Norton and McAfee offer parental controls that are much easier to set up and use, work on multiple browsers (including Chrome), and are compatible with multiple devices (including Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS).
- Choose an antivirus that won’t impact your device’s performance. Windows Defender is designed to run smoothly on Windows systems — it hardly has an impact when idle and during scans. So it’s important to choose a lightweight Windows Defender alternative that doesn’t significantly impact your PC’s performance, such as Norton or Bitdefender.
- Pick something that’s easy to use. All of the antiviruses I recommend on this list have apps that are easy to install, set up, and navigate. What’s more, all of their features are intuitive and simple to use, even for new or first-time users.
- Look at the overall value. Windows Defender is free, but when speaking of cybersecurity, it’s true that you get what you pay for. The top antiviruses I recommend, including Norton, Bitdefender, and TotalAV, offer affordable payment plans and risk-free money-back guarantees, and there are also brands like Avira that offer completely free (but limited) versions of their Windows software.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut
- Webroot. Webroot is a fast and very lightweight antivirus, but its malware detection rates are a little low for my liking. Notably, it has very poor ransomware detection, which is one of the most dangerous types of malware. Its web protections are also pretty unreliable compared to the other antiviruses on this list.
- Quick Heal. Quick Heal is a pretty decent program. Its virus protection capabilities are comparable to Windows Defender, and it’s got a wide range of internet security packages to choose from. That said, I think these packages are overpriced for what they offer, and all of the products on this list offer a better value.
- PC Matic. PC Matic offers decent malware protection, as well as some good system optimization tools, but its approach to malware protection is quite different — it whitelists known programs and blocks everything else. This approach is okay, but I prefer antivirus software with advanced anti-malware engines that use AI and machine learning to detect advanced threats.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Windows Defender enough to stay protected?
It depends on what you mean by “enough”. Windows Defender offers some decent cybersecurity protection, but it’s nowhere near as good as most premium antivirus software.
If you’re just looking for basic cybersecurity protection, then Microsoft’s Windows Defender is fine. But if you have a lot of sensitive information on your device which might attract hackers — banking info, login details, private files — then no, it’s not “enough”. Windows’s antivirus has some serious problems in terms of online security, multi-device protection, poor-quality updates, and malware protection. You can read more about my analysis of Defender’s security offerings here.
What is Windows Defender SmartScreen? Should I disable it?
Windows Defender SmartScreen is Defender’s real-time and phishing protection. If you try to download a malicious file or visit a dangerous website, Windows Defender SmartScreen will stop the download or prevent you from opening the site. It’s essential protection, and you should only disable it if you have a reliable alternative antivirus installed with better real-time and phishing protection, such as Norton 360.
Can Windows Defender remove malware?
Yes. If Windows Defender detects malware, it will remove it from your PC. However, because Microsoft doesn’t update Defender’s virus definitions regularly, the newest malware won’t be detected. Relying on Windows Defender as your sole antivirus puts your entire PC at risk of infection.
While there are better free antiviruses out there, no free antivirus can offer the kind of guaranteed malware protection that the best anti-malware software can. If you’re looking for the best malware protection and internet security tools, a premium antivirus like Norton is much more capable.
Does Windows have built-in phishing protection?
Mostly, yes. Microsoft’s SmartScreen is designed to protect Microsoft Edge users from a wide range of online cybersecurity threats, including phishing emails and malicious sites which attempt to steal your personal information.
However, if you’re using a different browser, like Chrome or Firefox, the SmartScreen browser extension honestly isn’t worth installing — it doesn’t detect phishing sites as accurately as Google and Mozilla’s built-in detection.
If you’re looking to improve your web security, McAfee provides superior phishing detection for all major browsers, as well as a “Smart Firewall”, Wi-Fi security, and a fast VPN to keep your browsing 100% anonymous.
Is Windows Defender free?
Yes. Windows Defender is automatically installed for free on all PCs that have Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or Windows 11. You can also upgrade to Microsoft 365 Personal or Family to extend your protection to Mac, iOS, or Android — but it’s honestly not worth doing.
Should I replace Windows Defender with another antivirus?
Microsoft’s Windows Defender is closer than it’s ever been to competing with third-party internet security suites, but it’s still not good enough. In terms of malware detection, it often ranks below the detection rates offered by top antivirus competitors. In terms of system performance, Defender’s scans take longer and cause more slowdown than most third-party antiviruses. And finally, in terms of essential security features, Defender is severely lacking.
Using Windows Defender as a standalone antivirus is much better than not using any antivirus at all. But it still leaves you vulnerable to ransomware, spyware, and advanced forms of malware that can leave you devastated in the event of an attack.
I recommend one of the following options:
- Option 1: Choose a better free antivirus to replace Microsoft’s Windows Defender. If you’re on a really tight budget and you can’t afford a paid antivirus, there are a few free antivirus products that are significantly better than Defender. I like Avira’s free antivirus the best. But it’s important to remember that all free antiviruses have limitations that premium antiviruses don’t have.
- Option 2: Optimize your PC’s protection with a premium antivirus. No free antivirus will offer you 100% protection, and Windows Defender has repeatedly shown to be vulnerable to malware, ransomware, and spyware. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to keep you and your PC safe, so investing a few bucks a month in a premium internet security suite is hands-down the best way of protecting yourself and guaranteeing your cybersecurity.
Is Windows Defender better than free antivirus software?
Windows Defender is better than most free antiviruses, especially with the addition of sandboxing tools and cloud-based malware detection — features that aren’t included with many free antivirus programs.
However, there are some free antiviruses that are better than Windows Defender in terms of usability, performance, and extra features. That said, both Windows Defender and decent free antiviruses can’t beat premium antivirus suites, which offer complete cybersecurity protection for only a few dollars a month. Premium antiviruses like Norton score a lot higher in terms of overall protection and value when compared to both Windows Defender and free antivirus programs.
Can I use Windows Defender with another antivirus?
You can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Windows Defender’s protections can conflict with third-party antivirus software, inhibiting the software’s ability to scan and detect malware. Using Windows Defender in combination with another antivirus program can act as an extra layer of protection, but my advice is to choose a reliable antivirus that offers complete Windows protection and disable Windows Defender’s malware scanning modules to prevent any conflicts.
Note that in most cases, when installing a third-party antivirus on your PC, Windows will automatically disable Windows Defender — either putting it into passive mode or disabling its protections entirely. But it’s always best to make sure that Windows Defender’s protections are correctly disabled after you’ve installed a third-party antivirus, like Norton.
How to disable Windows Defender?
To ensure your new antivirus is running properly, you’ll need to disable Windows Defender to avoid any conflicts between the two scanning engines.
- Step 1: Click the Start button and select the Windows Security tab, and then click on Virus & threat protection.
- Step 2: Locate and select Manage settings (found underneath the Virus & threat protection settings heading).
- Step 3: Turn off real-time protection by clicking the toggle to Off. A message will appear saying “Real-time protection is off, leaving your device vulnerable” — it’s fine to ignore this message if you have installed a trusted alternative antivirus with real-time protection activated.
Windows Defender will now be deactivated. You’ll also see other options, including Cloud-delivered protection and Automatic sample submission — you can also switch these to Off, but these settings won’t impact the performance of your new antivirus software as Windows Defender’s real-time protection has already been deactivated.