Windows Defender Security Center: What It Is and How to Use It

Stand strong against malware and malicious attacks

A photo of three Microsoft Surface laptops siting side by side. Each laptop appears to be running Windows 10.

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PCs running Windows 10 come with an in-house security feature called Windows Defender Security Center, which offers protection against viruses, spyware, and malware. Even if you already have third-party antivirus software installed, it's still a good idea to know what additional protections and insights Windows Defender Security Center can provide.

Let's take a look at what the Center has to offer, how to access it, and go over a few of its key features.

What is the Windows Defender Security Center?

When you first purchase a Windows 10 PC, and before you install another antivirus software, your computer's primary line of defense against malware and viruses is the Windows Defender Security Center.

A screenshot of the main menu, "Security at a glance" screen within the Windows Defender Security Center.

Once you install a third-party antivirus software, the Center becomes a secondary line of defense of sorts: Many of the antivirus features will automatically become inactive, but you can still monitor the security of your device from the Center's dashboard. Other security settings, such as those related to Microsoft Edge, parental controls, and the protection of your Microsoft account can also be adjusted from within the Center.

Antivirus Programs vs. Windows Security Center

There are two main differences between the Windows Defender Security Center and third-party antivirus programs. The first is the Center doesn't require installation or a paid subscription to access its services, since the Center already comes pre-installed on Windows 10 devices.

Additionally, unlike paid subscription antivirus security programs, Windows Defender Security Center doesn't put security services or premium security features behind a paywall. Windows 10 users have free access to all of the Center's features provided their devices are properly updated and have the hardware to support its tools.

The second main difference is because Windows Defender Security Center is the in-house antivirus and security program for Windows 10, it includes access to security features specifically designed for the OS that other antivirus software options simply don't offer, including Dynamic lock settings, Windows Hello, Secure boot, and Fresh Start.

The Center's Dynamic lock settings allows you to pair a mobile device with your PC via Bluetooth so you can lock your PC when you step away from it. Secure boot is a security feature that prevents a type of malware called a "rootkit" from accessing your device upon startup. Rootkits are usually able to slide into devices undetected and can record your passwords and keystrokes, grab cryptographic data, and more.

How to Access the Security Center on Windows 10

There are two ways to access the Windows Defender Security Center: either by searching for it using the desktop's Search box, or by selecting the Security Center icon in the desktop's System Tray menu.

Access Security Center Using Search

  1. Select the Search box, which is located on the bottom left corner of screen.

  2. Type "Windows Defender Security Center."

    A screenshot of searching for the Windows Defender Security Center within the desktop's Search box.
  3. Press Enter, then select Windows Defender Security Center from the list of search results. You should then be directed to Center's main screen dashboard.

Access Windows Defender Security Center via the System Tray

  1. In the bottom right corner of the desktop's screen, select the up arrow to open the System Tray.

  2. Select the Windows Defender icon, represented by a black and white shield.

    A screenshot showing how to access the Windows Defender Security Center via the desktop's System Tray menu.

    This icon may or may not also contain a green dot with a white check mark in the center of it.

  3. The main dashboard for Windows Defender Security Center should automatically open.

Using Windows Security Center to View Your Computer's Health Report

Regardless of whether or not you already have another antivirus security program running on your PC, the Center will still run a health scan of your computer to ensure everything's running smoothly. If things aren't running smoothly, the Health report feature will notify you. Here's how to access it.

  1. Access Windows Defender Security Center using one of the two methods described above.

  2. From the Center's main dashboard, you can access the Health report in two ways:

    • Select Device performance & health.
    • Select the three horizontal lines on the left side of the dashboard, then select Device performance and health.
  3. Your device's Health report should automatically load the results of the Center's analysis of four different performance categories: Storage capacity, Device driver, Battery life, and Apps and software. Each category will mention its status.

    A screenshot of the Windows Defender Security Center's Health report feature.
  4. If there's an issue you need to resolve, a link to that issue will be displayed under its category. If there are no issues, there will be a checkmark next to each category and "No issues" will be listed underneath.

How to Set Up Windows Defender SmartScreen Settings for Apps and Browsers

Windows Security Center also offers a feature called Windows Defender SmartScreen. The SmartScreen feature helps protect against and warn you about threats like malware or phishing attacks. It can be especially helpful when browsing the internet.

  1. Access the Windows Defender Security Center using one of the two methods described earlier.

  2. From the dashboard, select App & browser control.

    A screenshot of the Center's SmartScreen settings within the App and browser control menu.
  3. The App & browser control menu should offer several sets of SmartScreen settings you can adjust: Check apps and files, SmartScreen for Microsoft Edge, and SmartScreen for Microsoft Store apps. Select Block, Warn, or Off to set your level of protection.