How to use Microsoft Defender, the antivirus security program on Windows 10

© 10’000 Hours/Getty Images How to use Microsoft Defender, the antivirus security program on Windows 10

  • Formerly known as Windows Defender, Microsoft Defender is an antivirus protection program that’s included with Windows 10.
  • You can enable or disable Microsoft Defender at any time.
  • There are third-party apps that are free or require a paid subscription that also offer antivirus services.

With so much of our lives spent online, and crucial files stored on our devices, it’s important to have protection against viruses that can wreak havoc.

For Windows 10 users, there’s a built-in antivirus protection program called Microsoft Defender Antivirus. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Microsoft Defender?

Microsoft Defender Antivirus, formerly known as Windows Defender, is an antivirus protection program that’s included with Windows 10. Unlike other antivirus programs like McAfee, Microsoft Defender is free and doesn’t require any additional installation. It’s also routinely updated.

Microsoft Defender’s features include automatically backing up files to OneDrive, expansive parental control settings, and the elimination of any need for passwords, which have been replaced by face recognition and fingerprint technology (known as Windows Hello).

Microsoft Defender offers tracking prevention to help you manage how websites track your data and to give you more control over your privacy settings when browsing the web. It also has a password generator, plus a password monitor that lets you know if any of your passwords have been compromised.

When set to active mode, Microsoft Defender acts as the primary antivirus app on your device. It scans files, remediates threats, and lists detected threats in security reports on the Windows Security app.

How to enable Microsoft Defender

Microsoft Defender is automatically included with Windows 10, but if your computer is linked to a group or organization (such as through your workplace), you may need to double-check that Microsoft Defender is actually enabled on your device.

1. Click the Start button on your Windows computer.

2. Type Group policy into the search bar.

3. Click on Edit group policy.

4. Click Computer Configuration, and then click Administrative Templates.

5. Click Windows Components, and then select Microsoft Defender Antivirus.

6. Scroll down to the bottom of the list and look for Turn off Microsoft Defender Antivirus. Click on Disabled or Not configured (whichever one is visible on your device). Note that while this might seem contradictory, you’re on the right track.

7. Click Apply, then click OK.

How to turn off Microsoft Defender in 3 ways

You may want to temporarily disable Microsoft Defender if you’re trying to install a third-party software or program onto your computer and the antivirus is blocking the installation. Another reason to turn off Microsoft Defender is if you want to use another antivirus program.

Important: When Microsoft Defender is turned off, the security of your computer may be at risk for malware attacks.

Temporarily disable via Windows Security

1. Click the Start button on your Windows computer, then click the Settings icon (it looks like a gear).

© William Antonelli/Insider

2. Select Update & Security.

© William Antonelli/Insider

3. Then click Windows Security, and select Virus & threat protection.

© William Antonelli/Insider

4. In the Virus & threat protection settings section, click Manage settings.

© William Antonelli/Insider

5. Click the toggle under Real-time protection to turn it off. It will turn gray when Microsoft Defender is disabled.

© William Antonelli/Insider

Permanently disable via group policy

1. First, you need to disable tamper protection. Click the Start button on your Windows computer, then search for Windows Security. Click on the app to open it.

2. Click Virus & threat protection. In the Virus & threat protection settings section, click Manage settings.

3. Click the toggle under Tamper Protection to disable this feature.

© William Antonelli/Insider

4. Click the Start button, then search for gpedit.msc. Click the first result to open the Local Group Policy Editor.

5. Click Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, then Microsoft Defender Antivirus.

6. Double-click Turn off Microsoft Defender Antivirus. Click Enabled in the pop-up window, then Apply, then OK.

7. Restart your computer.

Use a third-party antivirus protection program

If you choose to disable Microsoft Defender, it’s a good idea to install another antivirus program to protect your computer from viruses and malware. Below are some third-party options to consider:

  • Norton 360 with LifeLock Select ($149.99 per year, $99.48 for the first year): An enduring brand as far as antivirus software goes, Norton Security remains a top-rated option. This all-in-one antivirus subscription includes malware and virus protection for your computer and phone, 100 GB of cloud backup, a secure VPN, password manager, and more.
  • Bitdefender Antivirus (free version available, paid versions starting at $29.99 for the first year): A more affordable option for security software, the free version of Bitdefender covers one Windows PC and protects against viruses, malware, and spyware in real time. The paid versions protect more devices and give you a secure VPN.
  • McAfee Total Protection (starting at $84.99 per year, $34.99 for the first year): Another longtime brand in the world of cybersecurity, McAfee continues to score high marks on protection and performance from independent labs. With a paid subscription, you get virus and ransomware protection for up to an unlimited number of devices (depending on what plan you pick), plus a password manager.

What is a computer virus? Here’s how to spot signs of viruses and avoid them What is malware? Everything you need to know about malicious software and viruses, and how to protect your computer What is cybersecurity? A guide to the methods used to protect computer systems and data What is a cyberattack? A guide to the different methods cybercriminals use to harm computers and steal data

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