Is Windows 10’s built-in security all the free you need?

Here’s an update to a topic discussed in my January 31, 2019, post “Best PC anti-virus — free or not” and whether Microsoft Windows 10’s built-in Windows Defender is adequate for many PC users.

PC World > “Windows Security review: There are better options, but not for the ‘price’” – Windows Security (nee Windows Defender) has come a long way by Ian Paul (Dec 12, 2019).

For years, the attitude towards Windows 10’s built-in security was that it’s a nice idea, but you really shouldn’t rely on it. That stared changing in 2019, with the major testing houses giving Windows Security top marks.

Could it be true? Can you really ditch your $100 annual antivirus subscription and rely on Microsoft’s native solution instead? Here’s our opinion.

The current version allows you to run four different kinds of scans, all of which are pretty standard for antivirus.

For anyone who uses free, third-party antivirus, the new Windows Security offers pretty much all you need. Windows Security also has the added benefit of not harrassing you with notifications to upgrade to a paid product every few days.

In addition, there’s an option for controlled folder access to keep malicious programs away from sensitive folders. If Windows Security misidentifies an app as unfriendly you can also whitelist it. This section is also where you can set up OneDrive for ransomware data recovery.

Going back to the settings for Virus & threat protection, you can set up specific folders so they won’t be scanned, and adjust your notification settings.

Then the App & browser control is where you manage Windows SmartScreen for apps and file downloads, browsing on Microsoft Edge, and the Microsoft Store.

This section exposes one downside of Windows Security: It doesn’t really do as much as other third-party suites can do for third-party browsers.

See the full article for commentary on how Windows Defender did in evaluations by testing labs: AV-Test, AV-Comparatives, SE Labs.

From these results we can gather that Windows Security is highly cloud dependent for malware detection, and probably isn’t up to the job if your PC spends a good amount of time disconnected from the internet. It also means there are still far better choices for protection despite Windows Defender’s top ranking.

Windows Security offers good protection, but if you look at the testing comparisons to other suites, there are still better options. Nevertheless, Windows Security has come a long way and should continue to improve its basic protection and detection capabilities.


  1. Here’s a follow-up note on this topic.

    PC World > “The best free antivirus for 2020: Keep your PC safe without spending a dime” – Many of the mainstream antivirus vendors offer a free version of their security suites. Here are our top five choices for free antivirus – by Ian Paul (February 19, 2020).

    To create this list of the top free AV programs we looked at the top mainstream antivirus suites for Windows 10 and selected the ones that offer a free version, as not all of them do. After that, we looked at how well these suites performed in third-party detection tests. We also made sure they weren’t resource hogs, because the last thing you want is a piece of free software slowing down your PC while running in the background.

    Below are the 5 antivirus programs that PC World examined. Read the full article for limitations and caveats. I’ve noted those factors for the first one.

    Avast Free Antivirus

    What you don’t get for free is the phishing protection, the sandbox to separate suspicious files from your system, the Avast firewall, and the ransomware protection.

    During installation Avast gets a little annoying. It tries to sneak an installation of Google Chrome past you, for example. Avast also hasn’t been a friend to privacy in recent years by sharing user data with its subsidiary Jumpshot.

    The company recently said it will shut down Jumpshot. In the meantime, Avast makes it very clear during installation that you don’t have to share data with the company, as seen above.

    Kapsersky Security Cloud – Free

    Avira Free Antivirus

    Bitdefender Antivirus Free

    Windows Security

  2. Here’s another take on the best defense against computer viruses and other malware on your PC, a combination which I find appealing. There are some useful inks in the article as well, e.g., for standard computer security practices.

    How-to Geek > “What’s the Best Antivirus for Windows 10? (Is Windows Defender Good Enough?)” by Lowell Heddings (UPDATED January 23, 2020)

    We definitely recommend you read the entire article so you fully understand why we recommend a combination of Windows Defender and Malwarebytes [because there are caveats], …

    Use the Built-in Windows Defender for traditional antivirus – the criminals have moved on from regular viruses to focus on Ransomware, zero-day attacks, and even worse malware that traditional antivirus just can’t handle. Windows Defender is built right in, blazing fast, doesn’t annoy you, and does its job cleaning old-school viruses.

    Use Malwarebytes for Anti-Malware and Anti-Exploit – all of the huge malware outbreaks these days are using zero-day flaws in your browser to install ransomware to take over your PC, and only Malwarebytes provides really excellent protection against this with their unique anti-exploit system. There’s no bloatware and it won’t slow you down.

    Editor’s Note: … It’s not often that we give an official How-To Geek recommendation, but this is our favorite product by far, and something we use ourselves.

    What Windows built-in security can do:

    • automatically scan programs you open.
    • download new virus definitions from Windows Update.
    • provide an interface you can use for in-depth scans.


    • doesn’t slow down your system.
    • mostly stays out of your way.
    • includes no bloatware.


    • while good, does not get the highest ranks in terms of raw protection scores [but maybe 99.9% is good enough considering other factors].

    Recommended setting for Windows 10

    Starting with Malwarebytes 4, the Premium version of Malwarebytes now registers itself as the system’s security program by default. In other words, it will handle all your anti-malware scanning and Windows Defender won’t run in the background. You can still run both at once if you like. Here’s how: In Malwarebytes, open Settings, click the “Security” tab, and disable the “Always register Malwarebytes in the Windows Security Center” option. With this option disabled, Malwarebytes won’t register itself as the system’s security application and both Malwarebytes and Windows Defender will run at the same time.

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