The Windows Defender Security Center is an experience that comes built into Windows 10 since the release of the Creators Update. It combines the most common security features of Windows into an easy-to-use app allowing technical and non-technical users to view and protect their devices and data against many types of malware, including viruses and ransomware, hacker attacks, security threats, and more.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to get started and perform everyday tasks with the Windows Defender Security Center app to keep your system and data safe.

Windows Defender Security Center vs. Windows Defender Antivirus

Before we dive into this guide, it's important to clarify the difference between "Windows Defender Antivirus" and "Windows Defender Security Center," because while their names are similar, they serve different purposes.

Windows Defender Security Center is an application that provides a unified experience to view status and control security features, such as firewall, antivirus, performance monitor, and other products.

On the other hand, Windows Defender Antivirus is the default anti-malware engine of Windows 10 that offers real-time protection against viruses and security threats.

Installing a third-party antivirus will disable the Windows Defender Antivirus automatically, but it'll not affect the functionality of the Windows Defender Security Center. In the same way, disabling Windows Defender Antivirus or Windows Defender Firewall will not disable Security Center.

How to navigate Windows Defender Security Center

To get started, you can launch the app from the Start menu, or you can double-click the shield icon from the notification area in the taskbar.

Although "Home" doesn't include any setting that you can manage, it's a good place to get started, as it provides an overview of the protection of your device.

In this page, you can view the status of all the security features and alerts of any action that needs to be taken to keep your computer secure. Also, at the top of the page, you'll be able to find antivirus information, such as when the last scan was performed and when the last definition was installed.

The shield icon in the notification area is also capable of alerting you when an action needs to be taken. If there is more than one alert, only the most severe warning will be displayed.

Windows Defender Security Center includes five areas of protection that you can manage and monitor.

  • Virus & threat protection: includes the Windows Defender Antivirus settings, and it allows you to monitor the malware protection, scan your device for threats, and set up its advanced anti-ransomware feature.
  • Device performance & health: allows you to check the health and performance of your computer, and provides a mechanism to clean up your device to fix errors and slowdown problems.
  • Firewall & network protection: lets you monitor the status of network connections, and you can configure various Windows Defender Firewall settings.
  • App and browser control: helps you to protect your device and data from malicious code hidden on apps, files, and websites.
  • Family options: offers easy access to manage your devices and kids online experience using a Microsoft account.

How to scan your PC for malware using Windows Defender Antivirus

Windows 10 automatically updates and scans your computer for malware regularly, but if you can also perform a scan manually.

Quick scan

A quick scan happens fast, and it only scans the parts of the system where malware are known to hide.

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
  3. Click the Quick scan button.

If you suspect that a virus is still on your computer, you should try to perform a full scan.

Full scan

A full scan takes longer, but it checks your files and running applications. You can run a full virus scan on your computer using the following steps:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
  3. Click the Advanced scans link.

  4. Select the Full scan option.

  5. Click the Scan now button.

Custom scan

If you simply want to scan a folder or another specific location, you can perform a custom scan using these steps:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
  3. Click the Advanced scans link.

  4. Select the Custom scan option.

  5. Select the location to be scanned, and click the Select Folder button.

Alternatively, you can just right-click a drive, folder, or file and select the Scan with Windows Defender option from the context menu to perform a custom scan.

Offline scan

Sometimes if you're dealing with a tough virus or another type of malware, the antivirus may not be able to remove it while Windows 10 is running. If this is the case, save your work, close any running application, and run an offline scan using the following steps:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
  3. Click the Advanced scans link.

  4. Select the Windows Defender Offline scan option.

  5. Click the Scan now button.
  6. Click the Scan button to continue.

When you start an offline scan, your device will restart and boot using the Windows Defender Antivirus environment. The latest definition update will be installed (if an internet connection is available), a scan will be performed, and if a malicious software is detected, it'll be removed or quarantined automatically.

How to view scan history using Windows Defender Antivirus

During a scan for malware there are many things that it could happen, and to understand the threats and scan details, Windows Defender Antivirus includes a history area, which you can access using these steps:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
  3. Click on Scan history.

In the "Scan history" page, you'll be able to see any threats that have been detected, quarantined items that couldn't be removed, and those items that were detected as threats, but were allowed to run by you.

How to temporarily disable Windows Defender Antivirus

Although it's not recommended to use a device without a malware protection, sometimes the antivirus can be the reason you can't install an application or update. In this case, you can disable the antivirus temporarily to complete an installation.

To disable Windows Defender, do the following:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Virus & threat protection.
  3. Click the Virus & threat protection settings option.

  4. Turn off the Real-time protection toggle switch.

Once you've completed the steps, you can perform tasks that may conflict with the antivirus. If you don't re-enable the antivirus, it'll restart automatically the next time you reboot your computer.

If you have a good reason, you can disable Windows Defender Antivirus permanently using these advanced instructions.

How to view health and performance report of your PC

Windows Defender Security Center also includes an area that surfaces information about the health and performance of your computer.

To view your PC health and performance report, do the following:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Device performance & health.

The report includes status for Windows Update, storage, device driver, and battery. If action needs to be taken, you'll see an alert with a recommendation on how to remedy the issue.

Here are the meanings for each possible status state:

  • Green: everything is OK.
  • Yellow: recommendation is available.
  • Red: warning that requires immediate attention.

Fresh start

If your PC is having performance problems, such as issues with memory, shutting down, or everything is working very slow, you can click the Additional info link under "Fresh start" to re-install Windows 10 with the latest updates.

The process to start with a fresh copy of Windows 10 is straightforward:

  1. Click the Get started button.

  2. Click the Next button.
  3. Review the apps that will be removed.
  4. Click the Next button.

  5. Click the Start button to begin the process.

This process won't delete your files, it'll keep some Windows settings, but it'll remove everything else to help fix performance issues with your device.

How to manage network security with Windows Defender Firewall

The experience also includes an area to monitor and manage Windows Defender Firewall settings, which you can access with the following steps:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on Firewall & network protection.

In the page, you can view at a glance in which network profile the firewall is currently enabled and protecting you from unauthorized access. The one marked as "active" is the network profile currently in use.

You can also click any of the networks to disable the firewall and block all incoming network connections for a particular profile.

"Firewall & network protection" includes access to a number of other advanced firewall settings, but these are just links to Control Panel.

How to protect your PC against malicious code

The "App & browser control" page is the place to configure the Windows Defender SmartScreen settings that can help you to protect your computer against sites, apps, and files that may contain malicious code.

The default settings are the recommended configuration you should be using. Of course, that is unless you have a specific reason to change them.

To change the default SmartScreen settings do the following:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.
  2. Click on App & browser control.
  3. Select the level of protection you want for apps and files, Microsoft Edge, and Microsoft Store apps.

You'll also notice the Exploit protection at the bottom of the page. This is an advanced feature that can help to mitigate malware and vulnerabilities without having to wait for a malware or system update.

Windows 10 includes the most optimal settings for Exploit protection, and you shouldn't be making any changes to these settings unless you know what you're doing.

How to manage parental control and keep track of your PCs

Windows Defender Security Center also has a "Family options" area, but it's not a place where you can manage any settings. Instead, it offers access to manage parental control from your Microsoft account if your device includes accounts for children.

If you need to set up a kid-friendly device, check out this guide.

In the case you have multiple devices connected to the Microsoft account, you can click the View devices link to see your inventory along with health information and more.

Wrapping things up

On Windows 10, you can always choose to install any third-party suite of security tools. However, Windows Defender Security Center offers an user friendly experience that allows anyone to manage advanced security features, and it helps you to stay more informed about the protection of your device and data.

Best of all, it's totally free, and it works with other antivirus products too.

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources: