July 26, 2012, 2:14 PM — Microsoft will include antivirus in Windows 8 for the first time in the history of Windows. But will this software--the new version of Windows Defender--provide adequate protection against viruses, spyware, and other malware? Let's take a closer look at what Windows Defender provides, and whether its features are enough to keep you safe.
Bear in mind that even though Microsoft will include Windows Defender in Windows 8, PC manufacturers may disable the program on new PCs that carry preinstalled antivirus software from a third-party such as Norton or McAfee. The preinstalled third-party antivirus options are usually limited-time trials, so your initial decision may be whether to keep any preinstalled antivirus; if you decide against keeping it, you'll need to decide whether to enable Windows Defender and use it or to switch to another third-party antivirus program.
The most important thing to consider when choosing antivirus software is its protection strength--how well it detects, disables, and removes viruses, spyware, and other malware. In this article I'll focus on comparing the protection strength of Windows Defender to that of other antivirus programs.
Protection Strength of Windows Defender
Though we haven't fully tested Windows Defender in Windows 8 yet, we have tested Microsoft Security Essentials, which uses the same antimalware engine as Windows Defender.
Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials also have very similar interfaces. Consequently, using the results from the existing Security Essentials review for a casual comparison seems reasonable. Security companies regularly update their products, and the results you obtain with the most recent iteration of each package could very well differ from those discussed here, but the earlier data does give us a rough idea of how Security Essentials and Windows Defender match up to their competition.
In a roundup review that we posted three months ago, based on evaluations that we conducted in conjunction with AV-Test, a well-respected antivirus-software testing lab, we appraised the performance of seven free antivirus programs. In this group, Security Essentials placed fifth. Our reviewers found it easy to use and deemed it the best of the seven at completely removing malware that it uncovered; but they also found its malware detection rate rather lackluster: It spotted 97% of known malware samples, whereas programs turned in detection rates as high as 99.9%.