Unlike with Windows 7, you won’t see your Windows 10 computer bugging you to get a security program installed. Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft’s operating system includes Windows Defender, a built-in security tool meant to protect your PC from viruses and malware. But is this program good enough and should you simply rely on it and not even think about using something else?
A Sidekick is a Must: Add Anti-Malware to Your Antivirus
This is something you have to understand from the start. Most antivirus programs do not include a full-strength anti-malware component, while non-virus malware may be even a more frequent cause of PC infections than traditional viruses. You have to make sure your PC has an anti-malware program on it alongside a decent antivirus program. This way your system will be fully protected against the complete range of today’s cyber threats, including viruses, ransomware, spyware, adware, PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) and many more.
So what security programs should you choose for protecting your computer? First things first: let’s talk about the most important part of this combo, an antivirus.
Should You Stick with Windows Defender?
Once you get your OS upgraded to Windows 10 (or get a new PC with Windows 10 pre-installed), you will already have Windows Defender installed and running on it. It will scan the applications you launch, get definitions updated using the Windows Update feature and let you manually launch deeper scanning when needed.
You are probably asking now: why should I bother installing something else, isn’t Windows Defender a good enough solution? Well, comparative tests show that this security tool by Microsoft is somewhat below others in protective powers.
Windows Defender is actually a good option in a lot of ways. It’s free (so no annoying popups asking for payment), it’s already on your PC (so no need to search for an antivirus online), it’s light on system resources and it comes from a trusted publisher. It is a very well-behaved free option which really isn’t that bad. It may even be sufficient for protecting your PC as long as you keep your Windows and your web browsers updated and don’t use browser plugins that may potentially be dangerous.
If you look at AV-TEST or AV-Comparatives test reports, you will see that Microsoft’s Windows Defender isn’t rated that high at all. Although the numbers may look decent (from 94 to 99% of threats caught), they are lower than most other antivirus programs’. If you do the calculations, the 94.5% detection rate on a sample of 1517 threats means that 89 of those threats slip through.
Compare this to BitDefender or Kaspersky – the two programs that were able to detect 100% of zero-day threats or 99.9% of threats in real-world tests.
Although previously Microsoft would offer explanations for why the detection rates might have been lower (saying that other companies may tune their programs to perform better in AV tests), they have stopped doing that.
Windows 10 offers additional security features besides Windows Defender, such as the SmartScreen filter, which is meant to block downloads of malicious content from the web. If you are using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, they include the Google’s Safe Browsing feature, which is also designed to prevent malware from downloading to your PC.
To sum it all up, we can’t say Windows Defender is bad. We are just saying that there are better options out there and you may want to consider them if you want more powerful protection.
Having a better antivirus is especially important if you visit websites of questionable safety or download applications that may be pirated, as Windows Defender may not be enough to protect against what you can catch there.
What Antivirus Is Best for You?
Since every computer system is unique, there really can’t be one recommendation good for all. Users are also different. While some may tolerate little annoyances for higher protection quality, others may be mostly interested in non-intrusive behavior or low resource usage. Looks are important too, and some people ultimately choose by this criterion from among the best antivirus programs recommended.
Here are a few programs that we feel are better equipped to protect any system from today’s cyber threats.
- The bad news is that the security programs that performed best in most tests aren’t free. Both Kaspersky and Bitdefender cost a bit of money, but both of them consistently rank high in AV comparative tests. Both also have pretty sleek interfaces and offer some advanced features no other antivirus has.
- If you don’t want to pay for top protection, there are some free options out there that rank higher than Microsoft’s built-in tool. We’d recommend taking a look at Avira Free Antivirus first, as it performs almost as great as the top two paid solutions above. AVG Free and Avast Free are worthy alternatives, although not as good as Avira. When installing Avira (or any other free software for that matter), be careful through the installation process and be sure to uncheck any boxes to install additional offers, if you don’t find them interesting. All free AV programs will offer some popup advertisements, so what you choose will depend on your tolerance level for that kind of thing. In any event, Avira is not as intrusive as most other free options, so it’s the best you can get without paying a dime, except for…
- Windows Defender: it still is the least intrusive of all, so if that’s your main criterion, you may want to stick with this program. Windows Defender will not display any popup ads or bug you to pay for anything, and as we mentioned above, the protection it offers is still pretty decent.
Windows Defender is always there for you, even when you betray it by installing another antivirus. Microsoft’s tool will disable itself when you do that, and then get re-enabled if you end up uninstalling your other antivirus.
However, what’s probably even more important than having a good antivirus on your PC is learning safe browsing habits. Don’t visit potentially dangerous sites, don’t download pirated software and don’t click on links you aren’t sure about: these are just a few of the rules you need to follow to stay safe. If you like software giveaways, make sure you only participate in those that are organized by a trusted source. Malicious files can often be bundled with a free software giveaway, freebie games, or with downloads you get through torrents or other sites used by criminals. Check each free software download using your antivirus before installing or running it. But even when you follow these rules AND have a great antivirus program installed, there is still some malware that may slip through. You need a good anti-malware solution to prevent that.
Antivirus May Miss Threats: Use Anti-Malware Too
Antivirus is an important element in your security shield, but what may be even more important is a program that includes anti-malware, anti-exploit, anti-rootkit components. In addition to that, you may also want to be protected against spyware, adware and PUPs (potentially unwanted programs). A lot of cyber attacks are implemented by exploiting vulnerabilities in web browser plugins, hence the importance of the anti-exploit component.
Malwarebytes Free used to be the program we recommended for anti-malware protection. It is still by far the most popular one. However, recently we have noticed an increased number of reports of false positives produced by Malwarebytes. The company seems to have made their scanning engines more aggressive and is now often flagging legitimate applications as potentially unwanted. The problem is that users often can’t tell the difference between a PUP and a real threat (everything is either labeled as a threat or is presented in the same way by the program), while PUPs are often harmless applications. Chances of a perfectly useful app being labeled as a PUP are very high with Malwarebytes these days. So if you are willing to have to go through the process of adding your favorite software programs to the Exclusions list in Malwarebytes, you may still want to try this powerful tool. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay for the advanced features, such as real-time scans, as they are offered in the premium version of the program only.
So what do you do if you want to try something other than Malwarebytes. There are alternatives to it that are very far from being as popular, but may be pretty close to being just as good.
One such program is Spybot Search & Destroy. This one is probably the highest ranked among free anti-malware programs, if you don’t count Malwarebytes. Spybot Free offers on-demand scanning for all sorts of malware your antivirus may miss and removes it easily and quickly.
Another option is SuperAntiSpyware, which comes in free and paid versions and is also pretty good at malware detection, including zero-day threats.
Hitman Pro is another program that offers cloud-based checks with not one, but several antimalware engines. This tool has earned a great reputation with security experts and is often recommended on security websites and forums.
Sometimes paid versions of security programs may be offered for free through various ‘Software of the day’ promotions, on GiveawayOfTheDay, or the publisher may decide to give away some free copies in a holiday-related promo. Free giveaways today are pretty popular online, but you have to be very careful as to where you go to get giveaway software. Pick a couple of giveaway sites that you research and find to be trustworthy, subscribe to their alert emails and watch for good security software to be announced as the free giveaway of the day.
So that’s basically it. Grab yourself a good antivirus, a decent anti-malware program and learn some safe web browsing habits for best protection from any kind of threat the World Wide Web may throw at you.
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