Windows Defender Security Center Review

A fully integrated security solution for Windows computers

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4.3

Windows Defender Security Center

Windows Comprehensive Security

Windows

What We Like

  • No additional cost

  • Tons of security features rare with free solutions

  • Strong parental controls for peace of mind

  • Frequent updating of virus definitions

  • Low overhead when scanning

  • Basic features are easy to use

  • Even checks for known vulnerabilities

What We Don't Like

  • Spyware scans only in Windows 7, Vista, and XP

  • Has high false-positive tendencies

  • Full scans take several hours to complete

  • Only for Windows-based operating systems

  • SmartScreen only available for Microsoft Edge

Windows Defender Security Center is a free feature-rich security and antivirus program for PCs that will provide most average users plenty of protection from malware.

4.3

Windows Defender Security Center

Windows Comprehensive Security

Windows

Microsoft has finally developed a full-blown security suite with Windows Defender Security Center. It’s loaded with tons of features to protect your PC, including antivirus, firewall, and even device health, among other things. One might expect to see a hefty price tag with these features; however, Windows Defender comes free with Windows 10 and 8.1. However, for those who use Windows 7, Vista, or XP, you only get the ability to scan for spyware. Fortunately, Microsoft has Security Essentials to handle the needs of earlier versions of Windows. We tested the antivirus program, so keep reading to see how it performed in our trial run.

Types of Protection: Real-Time Protection & More

Windows Defender has a rare feature with its antivirus protection. Not only does it provide definition-based security, but it also monitors behavioral changes within your system. As malware becomes more sophisticated, Windows Defender will monitor for processes, actions, or other behaviors typical of all kinds of malware. If it notices the sudden activity of files being rewritten over and over, Windows Defender will compare that activity to known malicious behavior. The additional signature-based protection covers known malware as it compares to the virus definitions built-in and frequently updated in its database.

Scan Locations: Scans Almost Everything

Windows Defender will not only scan your hard drive but any external devices you may use. By using the Custom scan in the Advanced Scan section, you can point the application to scan USB thumb drives, CDs, and external hard drives. With a bit of Registry tweaking, some users have even configured Windows Defender to scan drives on the network.

Types of Malware: They’ve Got it covered

In Windows 10 and 8.1, Windows Defender will scan for viruses, rootkits, ransomware, spyware, adware, and known vulnerabilities as reported by MITRE Corporation.

Windows Comprehensive Security
Windows

Ease of Use: Simple Interface

Just like Windows 10, Windows Defender Security Center has a simple-to-use interface. Each feature has a brief explanation of its use and most have links for additional information online. Most of the language is suitable for users, with little to no technical jargon to confuse. However, users who opt to use the more advanced features of the program may get in over their head. Some features, such as the firewall have more technical interfaces, better-suited to an IT professional. Overall, most of the graphical user interface (GUI) is easy to navigate and use.

There is an important item to note. Some testing reports that Windows Defender produces a higher than normal false positive rate when scanning for viruses or other suspicious files. In some cases, Windows Defender detected legitimate programming code (JavaScript) as possibly malicious. When receiving questionable results, you may have to do a bit of research to see if what WD found is genuinely malicious.

Update Frequency: Updates as Needed

Windows Defender Antivirus automatically updates its virus definitions as needed. Just like its patches, Windows will actively scan and monitor for any necessary updates. You can also perform a manual check for updates if you want to be sure your computer has the latest and greatest protection.

Not only does it provide definition-based security, but it also monitors for behavioral changes within your system.

Performance: Little Overhead 

With the 4 types of scans, performance varies very little. 

  • Quick Scan: Scans in locations that are typical targets of malware which include registry keys, Windows startup folders, and the System folder. It also scans any attached removable devices. There was very little overhead and system lag when a Quick Scan was performed even with an attached external hard drive. Most Quick Scans take less than 10 minutes to complete.  
  • Custom Scan: Created no noticeable stress on the system while it was taking place. The length of time for scan completion depends on the size of the device/location being checked.
  • Offline Scan: Allows the application to scan the Master Boot Record (MBR) or to remove more difficult to clean malware. It takes approximately 15 minutes to complete the scan. Full Scan: Can take considerable time to complete. While Microsoft states that it can take longer than an hour, most average computers will take 2+ hours to complete. Fortunately, the scan doesn’t spike the system performance too badly. You can still do most functions without noticing much system lag. If performing some CPU intensive activities, such as gaming, you may see some slowdowns.

Overall, Windows Defender did not hammer the system to the point of being unusable. The only noticeable slowdowns were when Windows was downloading updates. However, many of these updates also included patches for Windows itself, so it is likely the virus definition updates cause little to no performance hits.

Windows Defender
Windows

Additional Tools: Tons of Extras

Microsoft has expanded Windows Defender into a full suite of tools to protect your computer. Besides the virus and threat protection, Windows Defender Security Center has account protection, firewall and network protection, app and browser control, device security, device performance and health, and Family options. Below is an overview of each additional tool.

  • Account Protection: As Windows Defender Security Center is integrated with Windows, it seems only natural for Microsoft to add some additional protection to your account that is associated with your Windows install. Much like setting up two-factor authentication with your Outlook.com account, you can set up and manage security with Windows. You can even set up Windows Hello to log in faster into your PC as it learns to recognize your face with the aid of an installed camera.
  • Firewall & Network Protection: Previous versions of Windows had a similar version of the firewall but was more of a nuisance than really what it protected against. This version seems much more effective in blocking unwanted activity. Sometimes a little too well as you may get prompted often, to allow some legitimate applications to run, such as online games or video streaming apps. Its advanced settings are not for the inexperienced user. Configuring these settings can be rather complicated and is not advised if you’re not familiar with the finer details of firewalls.
  • App & Browser Control: Windows Defender SmartScreen will check your system for unrecognized apps and files from the web. You can set it to Block, Warn, or Off this feature. SmartScreen will also protect you from malicious sites and downloads in the Edge browser. Unfortunately, this only works in Edge, so if you use other browsers, you’ll need to find another solution for this handy feature.
  • Device Security: A useful feature that protects the hardware in your system such as boot, processor, and UEFI protection. This feature is dependent on your equipment on your computer. A drawback from this feature is that "homemade" systems may not support this capability. 
  • Device Performance & Health: Windows Event Viewer has been used in the past as a form of monitoring a PC’s health but was typically only used by technicians because of its overly technical interface. With Windows Defender, Microsoft has created a simplified version suitable for the layperson. It will track the capacity of your hard drive, any device driver, or software issues. You can also perform a fresh start from this page without losing your personal files. The downside to this feature is that the Windows Troubleshooter does not always find a solution to your issue. You may be left holding the bag when a problem arises.
  • Family Options: With this option in Microsoft Edge only, parents can approve which websites their children access. Other browsers such as Google Chrome or Firefox will not work with these parental controls. Additionally, you can limit screen time limits, control spending in the Microsoft Store, and much more. To set up this feature, you will be required to log into your account online.

Windows Defender SmartScreen will check your system for unrecognized apps and files from the web. You can set it to Block, Warn, or Off this feature.

Type of Support: The Community Can Help

For consumer help, there aren’t many options to talk to a live person. Microsoft has a thriving community where their techs and fellow community members can post issues and provide solutions. However, this can be very slow and unreliable as you are at the mercy of someone reading your post and giving you a proper solution. Microsoft has an online chat program to get help. While it may not be the most effective, you can many times get some direction of where to look. If you have some accessibility limitations, they do offer a special answer desk just for you.

Price: Can’t Be Beat

Since Windows Defender Security Center comes standard with Windows 10 and 8.1, the lack of additional cost is hard to beat.

Competition: Windows Defender Security Center vs. McAfee Total Protection

Both Windows Defender Security Center and McAfee Total Protection offer a similar variety of security features. You can’t beat a $0 price tag with Windows Defender; however, McAfee’s costs are reasonable considering the extra protection you can get. McAfee offers Identity Theft Protection and a Password Manager. Two tools vital for safe computing and protecting you and your family. Another negative against Windows Defender is the lack of support outside of Microsoft products. If you use Windows and Microsoft Edge, Windows Defender Security Center is the perfect solution for those on a tight budget. If you need security in another OS or browser other than Edge, McAfee is a good compromise between cost and features.

Final Verdict

Better than average coverage at no cost.

While some reported tests state that Windows Defender gives a larger than normal number of false positives, for the average user, it provides a moderate amount of protection. With the feature-rich security center and the unbeatable free price tag, you get quality security at a cost any budget-minded person can love.

Specs

  • Product Name Windows Defender Security Center
  • Product Brand Windows
  • Price $0
  • Platforms Microsoft Windows 7, 8.1, RT 8.1, Windows 10
  • Type of license Perpetual, non-expiring
  • Number of devices protected 1 device
  • System Requirements Operating system: Windows 7 with SP1, or higher; Memory: 1GB RAM or higher; Video resolution: 800 x 600 or higher; Available hard disk space: 500MB
  • Control Panel/Administration Yes, on single endpoint or enterprise administration
  • Cost Free with Windows
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