What is Microsoft Defender? What is this Microsoft about?

What is Microsoft Defender? Microsoft Defender Antivirus (formerly Windows Defender) is an antivirus software component of Microsoft Windows. It was first released as a downloadable free anti-spyware program for Windows XP and was shipped with Windows Vista and Windows 7. It has evolved into a full antivirus program, replacing Microsoft Security Essentials in Windows 8 or later versions.

In March 2019, Microsoft announced Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac for business customers to protect their Mac devices from attacks on a corporate network, and a year later, to expand protection for mobile devices, it announced Microsoft Defender ATP for Android and iOS devices, which incorporates Microsoft SmartScreen, a firewall, and malware scanning. The mobile version of Microsoft Defender also includes a feature to block access to corporate data if it detects a malicious app is installed.

What is Microsoft Defender?

Even in the days of MS-DOS, Microsoft provided a limited kind of antivirus protection. In Windows 10 and Windows 11, Microsoft Defender Antivirus protects against viruses, Trojans, ransomware, and all types of malware, and it also manages other Windows security features. If you have no other antivirus installed, Defender jumps in to offer protection. When you install a third-party tool, it goes dormant. Defender does a decent job, too, but the best competitors, including free ones, do even better.

In the realm of free antivirus, we’ve awarded two apps our Editors’ Choice honor. If you just want straight antivirus protection at no charge, AVG AntiVirus Free is our pick. For antivirus plus a generous selection of security suite features, look to Avast One Essential.

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Microsoft Defender

Microsoft Defender Scan Choices

Microsoft Defender focuses mainly on real-time protection. Where many other antivirus tools put a big Scan button front and center, Windows makes you work to even find the on-demand scan choices. In testing, a full scan finished in 26 minutes, but not without drama. Defender keeps a running estimate of the time remaining for the scan. This estimate kept going up and up, reaching past 4 hours, then dropped precipitously as the scan finished.

Defender’s scan time is much faster than the current average of 2 hours, and it clearly performed some optimization to speed subsequent scans. A second scan finished in just 11 minutes.

In addition to the expected Quick, Full, and Custom scan options, Microsoft Defender offers what it calls Offline Scan. Designed to handle persistent malware that defends itself against removal by a normal scan, this scan reboots the system and runs before Windows fully loads. That also means it runs before any malware processes load. In theory, the malware is defenseless. If you feel that you still have a malware problem after a regular scan, give the offline scan a try.

Offline scan does run during the Windows boot process. Other antivirus tools that offer a similar boot-time scan typically boot into Linux, so there’s not even a faint chance Windows-based malware could run. Bitdefender’s Rescue Environment makes Linux-based malware removal particularly simple.

It’s true that after that initial full scan, real-time protection should handle any new attacks. However, many users like to schedule an occasional full scan for added security. You won’t find that functionality in Microsoft Defender, though. If you want to schedule a scan, you’ll have to dig into the unwieldy, threatening Task Scheduler app. Most competing antivirus utilities make scheduling scans much easier.

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Microsoft Defender

Good Hands-On Test Results

If you never installed any other form of malware protection, or if your antivirus subscription expires, Defender steps in and does its best to keep you safe. As we’ve seen, lab tests suggest it does a decent job, not an outstanding one. I also put it through my regular hands-on malware protection test for a real-world view of its effectiveness.

To start my hands-on testing, I open a folder containing my current set of malware samples. Shortly after I did so, Microsoft Defender began slowly picking off those it recognized as malware. In most cases it quarantined the found threats, but it reported some as just “Potentially unwanted.” To give it the best chance of success in the test, I clicked through for each potentially unwanted app and actively sent it to quarantine. Eventually it stopped finding new concerns. At that point, it had eliminated 66% of the samples.

Next, I exposed Microsoft Defender to hand-modified copies of my sample set. To create these copies, I change the filename, append zeroes to change the file size, and overwrite some non-executable bytes. Looking just at the ones whose originals it caught on sight, Defender missed 33% of the tweaked samples. I am surprised to see it caught a couple of the modified samples whose originals slipped the net.

I took the remaining samples and launched them one by one, noting Defender’s reaction. It caught many of the remaining samples at this point, detecting 95% of them one way or another. Webroot also detects 95% of these samples, but Guardio tops the list with 98% detection. Note that I had to modify my test for Guardio, as it only checks files for malware at download time, and only in Chrome.

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An antivirus can lose points from its overall score by leaving behind traces of the malware it detected. Guardio doesn’t lose a thing here, coming out with 9.8 points. Minor lapses take Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus down to 9.4 and Microsoft Defender down to 9.1 points.

Defender’s score is decent, and it beats other free antivirus tools tested with this sample set. AVG only got 8.6 points, Avast 8.4, and Kaspersky 8.2 points. AVG and Avast both come out ahead of Defender in independent lab tests.

I did run into one odd problem, something I’ve encountered before. Microsoft Defender kept finding certain malware threats over and over, even after it eliminated them. During my previous review, I learned that this is a fairly common problem, solved by deleting a detection history folder Defender maintains. But in Windows 11, I don’t have permission to view that folder, much less delete it. Microsoft should fix this known problem.

Techopedia Explains Windows Defender

Released in 2006, Windows Defender was a built-in anti-spyware application included with Windows Vista and Windows 7, and was later updated to include support for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Windows Defender was later incorporated into Microsoft Security Essentials, which targets a wider range of malware, and is available as a free download.

Windows Defender was updated with the release of Windows 8. In Windows 8, rather than focusing solely on spyware, Windows Defender offers virus protection as well, similar to Microsoft Security Essentials.

Microsoft Defender

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