Is Windows Defender Enough to Protect Your Data?

Is Windows Defender the best antivirus program to protect your system from a cyber attack? Maybe not.
We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

If you purchased a device with the Windows 10 or Windows 11 operating system, then Microsoft Defender (also known as Windows Defender) is included. But if you want to safeguard your device against the most vicious cyberthreats, then you'll need more than just Windows Defender as your antivirus solution.

While Windows Defender certainly has some fantastic points, it may not give you all the security you need. Keep reading to learn why you may want to double up with one of the best antivirus programs like TotalAV as well.

4.8
Learn More
On TotalAV's website

TotalAV
  • High level of antivirus protection
  • Protection from malicious viruses, malware and dangerous websites
  • User-friendly interface and overall app
  • Lacks firewall protection

In this article
Is Windows Defender good enough?
Where Windows Defender comes up short
Windows Defender features
5 alternative antivirus programs for Windows 10
Windows Defender FAQs
Bottom line

Is Windows Defender good enough?

Windows Defender is a good basic virus protection software, but you may not find everything you want if you are extremely security focused. A third-party antivirus or anti-malware software will likely find threats that Windows Defender may miss.

There are good points about Windows Defender: You get free protection that scores high when tested and reviewed. In a product review by AV-TEST, Windows Defender scored 6 out of 6 for protection and usabilty and earned 5.5 out of 6 for performance.[1]

The performance review tested average influence of Windows Defender on computer speed in daily usage. The test for performance showed that it leads to slower installation of frequently-used applications compared to the industry average. 

Performance is an issue for anyone using antivirus software. You want to know the product you install doesn’t bog down your machine. Different products can cause the system to run slowly at times. When testing performance, actions get repeated to do a thorough analysis of the average generated speed of the device while using the antivirus product. When using Windows Defender, you can expect little to no slowdown of your device.

However, protection is where the main points of concern are for most users. During simulated testing, products get reviewed to see how well they guard devices against malicious viral attacks. Solid protection is where Windows Defender shines. In a sample of over 19,000 malware files, a four-week review showed 100% coverage protection. You can configure your Windows security center settings for maximum privacy.

As far as usability, Windows Defender also didn't bring up any false positives, so it won't block legitimate software either.

Where Microsoft Windows Defender comes up short

If you have read all the features Windows Defender offers, you might think there's no need to install other antivirus software. Before you decide this is the only protection you need, you should be aware of a few stumbling blocks with the product.

You have to use other Microsoft products for full protection

Getting the most from Windows Defender involves using only Microsoft-based products. If you like to use browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox, you may get less protection. When working with other products, you rely solely on their antivirus protection. Many users aren’t made aware of that before they run into a malware issue.

If you like the Windows Defender parental control features, you should know that your kids also won’t get protected when using other browsers or applications. They must use the Microsoft Edge browser and no others. Also, if you want to extend the Microsoft security features to your children’s Apple or Android phones, it will require a paid subscription.

Windows Defender doesn’t hold up well when accessing phishing sites

Phishing has become a critical problem for many computer users. We get tons of emails each day that look official. When we get in a hurry, we could click on an email before realizing it could be a dangerous scam.

A phishing site works by using a domain name or information that resembles an official website. Phishing sites can cause extensive damage because hackers don’t have to be sophisticated to get private data. Since the sites look genuine, many people give over their personal information. That may include financial and health data, and it can take months to regain that personal data.

For our review of Windows Defender, we conducted an EICAR test to see how it stacked up. While Windows Defender passed for malware detection and PUA detection, it failed the phishing detection test.

DNS filtering only when using Microsoft Edge

Windows Defender offers DNS filtering, but you must use the Microsoft Edge web browser to get this feature. DNS filtering uses Domain Name System matches to block malicious websites.

If you prefer to use another browsing method such as Google Chrome or Firefox, you lose the Windows Defender DNS feature. You will need to upgrade to the Endpoint or Business versions to use DNS services with other browsers. The other option is to get the Microsoft Defender Browser Protection browser extension, which helps protect you against online threats when using Chrome.

There’s no password manager

Windows Defender doesn't come with a password manager. That is a downfall when it comes to protecting your data. A password manager is a tool that generates strong passwords and encrypts them for more online security. Not having a password manager may leave you more vulnerable to internet hackers.

Many of the best password managers also have encrypted storage for notes, credit card numbers, and more. They also allow you to easily share your account info with friends and family — no more visitors asking for the Wi-Fi password for the win.

You have to pay extra for cloud backup

You don’t get the advantage of cloud storage with Windows Defender. If you want that, you'll need to pay extra for the service. Microsoft recommends using Azure to protect cloud environments, but there are alternatives like NordLocker that you may find more appealing.

Learn More
On NordLocker's website

NordLocker
  • Independent storage from your devices
  • Ability to share some or all of your files
  • Can get pricey if you need a lot of space

You don’t get a VPN

Windows Defender doesn't offer VPN access for website browsing protection. If you want to use a VPN, you need to sign up for a third-party VPN service to know it will work.

A VPN is an added layer of data protection by using a different IP address and hiding the real one. That keeps hackers from knowing where you are searching from by redirecting your data.

Many antivirus companies also sell VPNs or bundle them with antivirus plans, like Norton Secure VPN and TotalVPN. But you may find more privacy features in the following VPNs that topped the charts during our testing:

3 best VPNs to pair with Windows Defender

VPN
NordVPN

Surfshark

Private Internet Access
Starting price $3.39/mo Starts at $1.99/mo Starts at $2.19/mo
Number of devices 6 Unlimited Unlimited
Server count 5,000+ in 60 countries 3,200+ in 100 countries 84 countries + 50 U.S. states
Streaming support
Torrenting support
Learn more See NordVPN Pricing See Surfshark Pricing See PIA Pricing

Windows Defender features

There are some major features you may like with Windows Defender. Some of the options are especially useful if you have young children.

Parents have more control

One of the Windows Defender features parents may like is controlling what their children see. Microsoft has included this to manage the digital features your family can access. It has options you can choose that will keep your devices free from malware and protect your children when they get online.

You won’t get webcam protection with Windows Defender. Many parents and users like to have that included for extra peace of mind.

You get access to research-backed protection

Microsoft has also used in-depth research that helps protect against emerging viral threats. The latest research combines machine learning, data analysis, and cloud infrastructure to protect your devices.

But, if you are like most users, you want a product that runs without you having to check it. Windows Defender must be set up to perform scheduled scans in Windows Task Scheduler.

It may be compatible with other antivirus products

If you want to choose what antivirus software you use, you may be able to have the best of both worlds. Some antivirus products work alongside Windows Defender. The antivirus software manufacturer should show compatibility options for Windows. Microsoft even suggests that you may benefit from added security software while running Windows Defender in passive mode.

If you do install another antivirus software, Windows Defender will go into inactive mode. If you want to run both, you need to turn Windows Defender on again. You can also turn on periodic scanning in the Windows Security settings, under "Virus & threat protection," then "Microsoft Defender Antivirus options." (Also called “Virus & threat protection settings.”)

Defender detects malware files

As part of the Windows Security Suite, you get a built-in malware scanner that searches for any harmful ransomware, spyware, or other malware programs or files on your device. It performs searches across apps, emails, the cloud, and the internet. If a suspicious file gets found, you can quarantine it and review or delete it from your device.

It offers protection from internet hackers

Many hackers work to gain control of your device remotely. Others may send codes to run combinations to guess network passwords. Microsoft offers real-time protection to keep your data safe from intruders. When you suspect a hacker is attempting an attack, you can isolate the device to lock down your data.

Microsoft Defender Firewall comes with the security suite

As an additional layer of protection, you get a firewall that helps keep sneaky hackers from gaining access to your device.

5 alternative antivirus programs for Windows 10

If you feel Windows Defender doesn’t offer everything you want in security protection, you have other options. These five impressed us with their features and excellent protection scores:

1. Norton 360

5.0
Save up to 66% on your first year
Learn More
On Norton 360 Antivirus's website

Norton 360 Antivirus
  • Easy-to-install antivirus protection
  • Secure VPN and password manager included
  • Parental control features
  • Multi-tab navigation may be overwhelming at first

Norton 360 also had a perfect protection score with AV-TEST.[2] It offers dark web monitoring and parental controls, as well as the option to bundle its antivirus product with LifeLock, a well-rounded identity theft protection service that also monitors your bank accounts, social media, home title, and more.

Get Norton 360 Antivirus | Read Our Norton 360 Review

2. McAfee

5.0
Save $105 on your first year of McAfee+ Premium
Learn More
On McAfee's website

McAfee
  • All-in-one protection for your personal info and privacy
  • Excellent antivirus protection
  • Additional features like a file shredder and parental controls
  • Multiple pop-ups for text notifications can be annoying

McAfee antivirus gives users a reason to pay for virus protection. Not only did it offer 100% malware protection in the AV-TEST review, but it also won’t slow down your machine like some of the other antivirus products.[3]

If you need additional security features, McAfee delivers. It comes with parental controls and a file shredder, as well as the WebAdvisor browser extension to block malicious websites

Get McAfee | Read Our McAfee Review

3. Bitdefender Internet Security

4.8
Learn More
On Bitdefender's website

Bitdefender
  • Antivirus software offering reliable security
  • Simple yet powerful interface tools
  • Perfect protection score in third-party tests
  • Premium features incur additional subscription fees

Bitdefender protects against phishing attacks and other web-based threats. You can also whitelist sites that you want to visit. Whitelisting allows you to visit sites you consider safe. You get to approve internet websites you like to browse, and Bitdefender will remember them for future reference.

In viewing the AV-TEST review, Bitdefender Internet Security earned perfect scores for protection, performance, and usability.[4]

Get Bitdefender | Read Our Bitdefender Review

4. AVG

4.8
Learn More
On AVG's website

AVG
  • Free version comes with malware, spyware, and ransomware protection
  • Includes unsafe email attachment blocking
  • Various scanning options may be confusing to some people

AVG antivirus is another top performer when it comes to malware protection. It scored 100% against widespread virus attacks in AV-TEST's real-world testing scenarios.[5] AVG also includes spyware and ransomware protection alongside its malware detection and removal tools, as well as an email attachment scanner. 

Additionally, we've lisetd AVG as one of the best antivirus for Mac due to how user-friendly it is and it's countless features.

Get AVG | Read Our AVG Review

5. Avast Free AntiVirus

4.8
Learn More
On Avast's website

Avast
  • High antivirus test scores
  • Ransomware protection
  • No parental controls

Avast offers protection against malware infections and its Free AntiVirus software comes at no cost to you. And just because it's free doesn't mean it's barebones.

Alongside antivirus scanning, you'll get the Avast Online Security & Privacy browser extension that helps protect you against phishing scams and malicious sites. It also comes with a firewall and earned perfect scores in the latest AV-TEST review.[6]

Get Avast | Read Our Avast Premium Security Review

Why we don't recommend Kaspersky

In early 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) listed Kaspersky as a "national security risk."[7] Kaspersky Lab is based in Moscow, so this is due to potential threats from Russian-backed cybersecurity threats. With that in mind, we don't recommend using Kaspersky products at this time.

Windows Defender FAQs


+

Do I need another antivirus if I have Windows Defender?

Yes, with the security gaps found in Windows Defender, it's advisable to have another antivirus product.


+

Can Windows Defender remove Trojans?

Windows Defender cannot remove all Trojans from your device. There may be additional steps you have to take to remove them.

Make sure Windows Defender performs a virus scan. Type “Windows Security” in your search box and choose the “Virus & Threat Protection” option. Select “Full scan” and let it finish scanning the entire device.

You can also install another antivirus software program and run a scan. If you want to stay with the Microsoft ecosystem, you can download the Microsoft Safety Scanner. It is free and updated several times per day to catch the latest viral threats.

You can also run a System Restore that will revert back to a time before your device became infected. You typeRestore” in the start menu and follow the instructions from there.


+

Can Windows Defender remove malware?

Yes, when Windows Defender detects malware, it removes it from your device. A caveat to this is Windows Defender must stay updated to catch the newest malware.


+

Do you still need antivirus with Windows 10?

Yes, you do need antivirus software protection on Windows 10. Although Windows Defender is a decent basic option, it doesn't come with everything a paid antivirus software may include. If you are on a tight budget, Windows Defender will work to provide some general security protection, but it's not the optimal solution.


+

Is Windows 11 antivirus good enough?

No, Windows 11 antivirus will not protect your device from all potential threats. It may be Microsoft’s most secure version of Windows, but it's not immune to all threats.

Bottom line

When it comes to offering you the best security protection for your device, Windows Defender may be good, but it is not good enough. There are gaps that hackers can use to gain access to your private information.

Windows Defender is good to have since it comes free with Windows 10 and 11, but you need a third-party antivirus software product that is more well-rounded.

Windows Defender has shown some vulnerabilities with malware. No antivirus software can guarantee you 100% security protection, but many of the best Windows antivirus programs offer affordable plans with features that help keep your device safe. Solid antivirus software is an investment in your data privacy.

If your budget won’t allow the cost of a third-party antivirus subscription, there are free products that may work alongside Windows Defender to give you greater antivirus protection for your Windows PC.

5.0
Save $105 on your first year of McAfee+ Premium
Learn More
On McAfee's website

McAfee
  • All-in-one protection for your personal info and privacy
  • Excellent antivirus protection
  • Additional features like a file shredder and parental controls
  • Multiple pop-ups for text notifications can be annoying

Author Details
Patti Croft is a seasoned writer who specializes in all things technology. She holds a B.S. in Computer Science and carries a wealth of hands-on experience thanks to her background as a technical analyst and security specialist.

Citations

[1] AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Sep-Oct/2023

[2] AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Sep-Oct/2023

[3] AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Sep-Oct/2023

[4] AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Sep-Oct/2023

[5] AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Sep-Oct/2023

[6] AV-TEST Product Review and Certification Report – Sep-Oct/2023

[7] FCC says Russia’s Kaspersky Lab is a national security threat