Written by Brett Nordquist
Many of you have been building computers for years. There is pride in watching your creation of components come together and successfully boot into Windows. After running Windows Update, often the first piece of software installed was an anti-virus (AV) program, usually from McAfee or Norton. You could not be too safe because many news reports about the PC include a mention of its vulnerability to viruses and malware.
Over time, AV products morphed into suites of products that included odd tools such as registry cleaners, firewalls, and products that promised to free up RAM. Times were strange, and a lot of security companies took advantage of consumers’ fear of losing data. At Microsoft, IT required everyone to install an AV program before we could access the corporate networking. Since Microsoft did not make an AV program at the time, most of us installed one from ESET.
Today, about 85 percent of desktop PCs run a version of Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10. The good news is that each of these products includes both AV and malware tools. Some might call them basic or baseline, but they are certainly better than nothing. Microsoft continues to improve them with each version. We have reached a point at which many people are questioning whether any additional protection is needed.
This week we answer that question: Do you need a third-party AV anymore? We will also provide some tips for getting the most out of the tools Microsoft includes in Windows.
Viruses were the original and most publicized threat to PCs. They are still around, but hackers have moved on to more nefarious weapons such as malware. Malware is malicious software that intentionally acts against the best interests of the computer user. It can enter your computer via scripts and executable code without your knowledge. Some cases of malware hit the nightly news. In one case, Sony got caught installing rootkits on PCs to keep customers from pirating music and films.
Hackers are a resourceful bunch. Whereas many used malware to spy on users, today they are searching for ways to make money. And thus, ransomware was born. Ransomware is especially dangerous because, once it gets on your computer, it will encrypt your most valuable files. As its name implies, the only way to get them back is to pay the owner a ransom. This is what happened with the WannaCry ransomware attack earlier this year and is happening now with Bad Rabbit. Ransomware is the newest and one of the most sophisticated threats to computers today.
Windows Defender Provides Baseline Protection
If your PC is still running Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows Vista, I strongly recommend upgrading to Windows 10. We won’t go into the myriad performance advantages Windows 10 has over previous versions, only say that they are significant. But the best reason to upgrade to Windows 10 is that it is the safest and most secure version of Windows available for desktop and workstation PCs. Earlier versions include some tools for combating hackers, but Windows 10 finally brings all the tools under one umbrella that Microsoft calls the Windows Defender Security Center. It comprises the following products:
- Virus and Threat Protection – Traditional virus and threat scanning with updates and definitions installed automatically.
- Device Performance & Health – A simple dashboard that provides updates on the overall health of your computer.
- Firewall & Network Protection – Includes both public and private firewall protection. The advanced notification settings are very helpful.
- App & Browser Control – Helps keep you safe from malicious downloads and websites. Works with any browser.
- Parental Controls – Allows parents to set limits on what their kids download and see on the web including time limits.
Microsoft has offered these products as part of their Security Essentials suite or as stand-alone downloads since they released Windows XP. With each updated version of Windows, Microsoft has improved its effectiveness in keeping the harmful junk off your computer. If you are not prone to downloading free games, music, or movies from questionable websites, the current Windows Defender Security tools in Windows 10 should provide adequate protection for your computer.
Do I Need More Than Windows Defender?
A neighbor recently purchased a new computer from a major vendor. It came with Windows 10 along with a year-long subscription to McAfee Total Protection. This suite of security products is like those offered by Symantec. It includes virus and malware protection along with a firewall and identity protection.
No doubt these are solid products that do as they say, but they come with one major downside: they use a lot of system resources. Trying to uninstall these suites can take some time as you may have to disable and stop services. They can also conflict with comparable products included in Windows to the point of blocking legitimate programs and websites.
Are there any scenarios when paying for third-party protection is a better option than what’s offered for free with Windows? Yes, there are a few. These include:
- When absolute performance matters (virus scanning, advanced detection).
- If you need phone support—often critical for small businesses.
- When you need advanced firewall customization (remote tools, VM hosting).
- If you cannot stand advertising or nag screens.
Malwarebytes is one of few products that includes the features most users need and has earned the trust of IT professionals. Those who travel and jump from one unsecured Wi-Fi network to another should appreciate the advanced scanning and network detection tools it provides.
For most people, the protection found in Windows 10 is good enough. That assumes you make wise decisions about the websites you visit, programs you download, and attachments you open.
The AV, malware, and firewall protection inside Windows is very effective today, and it won’t use additional memory or system resources. If you run a business and need a higher level of technical support, you should consider a reputable protection suite from a reputable company. Windows Central recently reviewed several current products on the market. That would be a good place to start.
Keep in mind that your best defense against virus and malware is commonsense computing. Websites that offer pirated games, movies, or other programs are notorious for also serving up malware. Keeping kids off these sites can be a challenge. Good luck and safe computing!