May 21, 2012, 1:34 PM — When Windows 8 comes out later this year, the new Start screen and Metro-style apps will likely be the first changes you'll notice, but those aren't the only things that are new. Microsoft is also making some serious security enhancements to help keep your system safer and to improve Windows' ability to combat viruses and malware. It just may be the biggest improvement to Windows security yet.
Antivirus Comes Preinstalled
For the first time in the history of Windows, you'll enjoy protection from viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, rootkits, and other malware from the very first day you turn on your Windows PC--without spending a cent. Windows 8 comes with an updated version of Windows Defender that includes traditional antivirus functions in addition to the spyware protection and other security features that it has offered since Windows Vista. Windows Defender now provides similar protection--and a similar look and feel--to that of the free Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus program, which Microsoft has offered to users as an optional download since 2009.
Since Windows Defender will provide at least basic virus and malware protection, purchasing yearly antivirus subscriptions (such as from McAfee or Norton) or downloading a free antivirus package (like AVG or Avast) is optional, whereas before it was pretty much required if you wanted to stay virus-free. Of course, you may disable Windows Defender and use another antivirus utility that promises better protection and more features, but at least everyone will have basic protection by default.
Better Download Screening
When Microsoft released Internet Explorer 9, it updated the browser's SmartScreen Filter to help detect and block unknown and potentially malicious programs that you download; the function complements IE's website filtering, which works to block phishing and malicious sites. Starting with Windows 8, the program-monitoring portion of the SmartScreen Filter is built into Windows itself, and it will work whether you're using IE, Firefox, Chrome, or any other browser.
In Windows 8, the first time you run a program that you downloaded from the Internet, the SmartScreen Filter checks it against a list of known safe applications, and alerts you if it's unknown and therefore has the potential to be malware. If the alert does pop up, you could then further investigate the program (and the source where you downloaded it) before running it.