Microsoft has offered virus protection with its operating systems as early as 1993 Microsoft Anti-Virus for MS-DOS. Today’s Microsoft Defender Antivirus started life as Microsoft AntiSpyware in 2005.
It’s been a bumpy ride, with the antivirus tool going by various names and sometimes scoring below zero in third-party tests, but with the release of Windows 10, Microsoft Defender Antivirus has become a respectable malware-fighting tool ( if not glorious). . One constant factor through all these changes: Microsoft’s protection has always been free.
Does it change? Many readers were alarmed by the recent announcement of Microsoft Defender for Home, which, as Microsoft’s description page clearly states, is only available as part of a paid subscription to the desktop-based service. the Microsoft 365 cloud. What happened to freedom?
Defender of last resort
If every PC on the Internet has antivirus protection, life becomes more difficult for malware writers. It’s harder for viruses to spread and less lucrative to plant data-stealing Trojans when most potential victims have virus protection. Even ransomware factories can’t extract so much money from victims when the protection is universal.
That’s why Microsoft designed Defender to run on any PC that doesn’t have third-party antivirus. Near-universal antivirus offers a kind of herd immunity.
Does it work? Well, Microsoft has the numbers to show it. Reps pointed out that the Malicious Software Removal Tool you see with almost every Windows update does more than just upgrade Defender. Unless you opt out, it provides detailed (but non-personal) information to Microsoft, including your operating system, malware detections, and third-party antivirus software that may be installed. And studies based on this information show that even unprotected PCs benefit from having antivirus installed on most of their connections.
Defender aims to maintain this herd immunity, without interfering with the user’s choice of third-party antivirus. If you install Bitdefender, Norton, McAfee or any other recognized solution, Defender suspends its operations, silently observing in the background. But if you remove the protection or (more likely) let it expire, Defender springs back into action. The goal is to keep your system under protection in some way.
The defender is persistent. To test third-party antivirus utilities without any interference from Defender, I resort to editing the registry, editing windows service permissions, and editing group policies. Otherwise, Defender would wipe some of my samples between starting a new test and finishing installing a new antivirus.
Microsoft Defender for Home(Opens in a new window) The ad begins with a big splash: “Microsoft Defender. Online security, simplified. Easy-to-use online protection for you, your family, and your devices with the Microsoft Defender app, now available for download with your Microsoft 365 subscription.” This caused readers to contact me in a panic. They have always trusted Defender (despite my urgings to use a better free antivirus). Will they have to change?
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Other mentions in the announcement do not make things clearer. For example, “Get a centralized view to manage and monitor your security status on your computers and telephones” (emphasis mine). The FAQ’s answer to “Do I need a Microsoft 365 subscription to use Microsoft Defender?” is a resounding “Yes” and the FAQ says “No” to “Is Microsoft Defender built into the Windows operating system?”
Windows users need not worry
Ultimately, there is no real change in Microsoft Defender Antivirus on Windows. The new Microsoft Defender for Home strictly protects non-Windows systems. It offers antivirus protection on macOS and Android (but not iOS) and web protection on Android and iOS (but not macOS). Web Protection refers to what Windows users know as the SmartScreen Filter, which I’ve used in the past to protect only Microsoft browsers.
A blog post by Vasu Jakkal(Opens in a new window), Microsoft’s vice president for security, compliance, identity and management, finally specifies that this new offer strictly extends antivirus protection to platforms other than Windows. This does not change the status of Microsoft Defender Antivirus. I have to point out that the best macOS antivirus and Android security products almost certainly do a better job. Few are available for free, but this new cross-platform Defender isn’t free either.
So if you rely on Microsoft Defender Antivirus for security, nothing really changes. You can pay to extend protection to other platforms and manage them (and your Windows protection) from one central location. Even better, you can install a third-party cross-platform security suite to take care of all your devices. But if you do nothing, Defender will still take care of you, as always.
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