Windows Defender gets the job done — so why even gamble with third-party antivirus?

Best Free Antivirus Alternatives to Windows Defender
Best Free Antivirus Alternatives to Windows Defender (Image credit: Windows Central)

News broke this week that Avast has apparently been selling the browsing data of its users to major companies, including Microsoft, Google, Pepsi and Home Depot. The data, which was obtained as part of a report by Motherboard and PCMag, included things like Google searches, what LinkedIn pages and YouTube videos people looked at, and even the porn sites people viewed.

Avast claims the data it collects is anonymized, and its users have to opt in to allow Avast to use their data. However, it's unlikely that every owner included in the around 100 million devices that opted into the program knows exactly how their data is being used and what's being collected. Despite all of the caveats, the fact remains that an antivirus company is harvesting browsing and search data from its users, dumping it off to a subsidiary, and selling it for marketing purposes.

Why even gamble with the idea of yet another company treating your online habits like a sack of money to be pillaged when Windows Defender, which is build into Windows 10, is good enough?

Defender isn't perfect but it's more than good enough

Windows Defender Security Center

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft has received some backlash in recent years over the telemetry data it collects with Windows 10, but that's a far cry from pulling your entire browsing history and selling it, even if it's anonymized. Otherwise, Windows Defender has a lot going for it: it's fast, and it doesn't hit system resources as hard as heavy third-party antivirus software does. Even better, it's just as good as all of the other antivirus options on the market. And it's free for Windows users.

Why let yet another company treat your online habits like a sack of money to be pillaged?

By opting to stick with Windows Defender, you also avoid all of the annoying parts of third-party antivirus software. It's free, there are no annoying pop-ups to renew your subscription, and you aren't opening yourself up to other potential attack vectors opened up by the way other antivirus software has to integrate itself into your system. Did I mention, it's free for Windows users?

Windows Defender is no cure-all for every problem out there. You'll still want to practice some common sense when poking around the internet, and you might even want to pair it with a malware scanner of some sort to double up on protection. Still, there's no reason to go out of your way with third-party antivirus software when Windows Defender is just fine in its current state.

I don't say all of this as some sort of privacy warrior. I'm well aware that every Google search I make, every trip I map out with my phone's GPS, and every Amazon purchase I make are all going into some marketing black box that is uniquely designed to make me buy more stuff I probably don't need. But when everyone online is looking to make a buck on our data, it only makes sense to cut down where you can.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

  • Good article. I've been saying this for years. No need to use anything other than WD.
  • It's not always easy convincing people though. I do the same, I find that third party AV programs ultimately have a noticeable hit on performance. WD seems to be really light weight.
  • Thanks for this article. About two years ago I decided to take the $90 a year I was paying for Norton and apply it to an Office 365 subscription. Best move ever. After uninstalling Norton, I couldn't believe how responsive my computer became. Windows Defender is light years more efficient, and just as effective. If you have something like a Surface Go, I recommend not installing third party antivirus and not installing a third party browser. They just aren't necessary, and like this article points out, they create data exposure vulnerability.
  • This, all the way. I even get 'free' Norton through my ISP and don't choose to install it. I love the fact that the OS now has protection built right in.
  • Now has protection built right in? Windows defender/Microsoft defender has been included since windows Vista.
  • Looks like I was wrong. Microsoft Security Essentials was a separate download that would have covered viruses and malware for the older OS's.
  • Norton hasn't been a resource hog on PCs since like... 2006 or something. I still think it's worth it to drop it for Windows Defender, as I think it's good enough (and I've been using it since it came to PC in the XP-era)... But I don't think performance is a reason to avoid Symantec's AV. They fixed that a long time ago, and the move to SSDs had really eliminated it (as mechanical HDDs bottleneck performance when you have lots of disk access with AV running in the background scanning everything the PC accesses).
  • I use WD on my Insider Build PCs and Avira on the rest. That way, something that slips through either won't KO my entire Windows 10 herd.
  • Never used anything else since WD became a thing. That and common sense is fine.
  • The author made a mistake in not addressing how this relates to Windows 7. I have Windows 7. Many of us have no intention on upgrading. I am angry that he seems to assume as many do, that everyone has Windows 10 or wants Windows 10. We don't. Be fair or we won't read.
  • You can always download Microsoft Security Essentials. It's free and I think it's very similar to WD. I would imagine that MSE is still receiving updates even though support for Windows 7 has apparently ceased. It may also pay to have Malwarebytes installed as a back up occasional scanner. Also, it's very easy to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. I just did it for my mums computer last week. As I had replaced the CPU windows 10 was no longer activated and it wanted me to pay. As I had upgraded to Windows 10 for free a few years back, I didn't think it was fair that suddenly, just because I upgraded a couple of components, her pc was unlicensed. A quick google search found an easy solution. With Microsoft no longer supporting WIN7 many people are putting themselves at risk of getting infected due to security exploits that you wouldn't otherwise be exposed to if running Win 10.
  • You're right and he didn't mention windows 3.1 either, what are we supposed to do? I'll never give up my access to the original solitaire, the sequels just don't cut it, but I need to stay protected.
  • Seeing as how Windows 7 is no longer supported, and you should’ve updated years ago, this article doesn’t pertain to you, because you’re not even in a current operating system., obviously. The author didn’t make a mistake, he simply had no need to address an out dated operating system. Notice he didn’t mention windows 3.1 either.
  • Notice how seriously you’re taking the Windows 3.1 comment. This is what we call a woosh.
  • Poor poor boy
  • Well if you're planning on using an os that won't be receiving security updates then I don't think you really care about security. At this point it's silly not to upgrade to Windows 10..
  • "The author made a mistake in not addressing how this relates to Windows 7." The author made no such mistake. It was you who made the mistake of reading an article that clearly doesn't apply to you because it relates to software that is unavailable to you by your own choice. "Be fair or we won't read." I don't see how it's unfair to refer to something that is unavailable to you by your own choice but that you won't read is the first sensible thing you said in your comment. Maybe you should have heeded that advice in the first place.
  • WD is more than good enough these days. No reason to use third party rubbish unless you enjoy your PC taking a 5-15%+ performance hit. Sadly at work I still have to use SEP. At least my personal Surface doesn't suffer the same fate.
  • But but ... Why did Microsoft buy your data from Avast??? ELEPHANT in the house.
  • Exactly. They mention it but don't explain why.
  • How exactly is the author of this article supposed to know how Microsoft used the data?
  • That's true but there's more to it. Why would MS even need to buy data about Windows users from Avast? Probably because Windows isn't spying on you. Also, it really is important to note, as the author did, that Avast users had to opt in to the data sharing program.
  • I never used antivirus.
    When I first started owning computers they were all iMacs.
    Then in 2012, With Windows 8, I started using only Windows only using Surface PRO machines. You never need extra software when you choose well your Hardware.
  • Not using AV sounds great until one sneaks up on your system - especially from those people who DON'T use AV and help to propagate malware! I'm running an i7, All-SSD, 32GB RAM system. I don't even notice or feel AV. There is no reason not to have it, and not using it is like having unprotected sex without checking yourself for STDs. It's disrespectful to anyone else who touches any files that have been in contact with your system. This is also an issue I've generally had with Linux and macOS users. Yes, you may not personally suffer from the Windows malware that pass through your system, but the fact that you aren't checking and/or removing them when you encounter them is terrible when you pass those files on to Windows users who are vulnerable to them. Not being vulnerable - or suffering from - something doesn't relieve you of the obligation to protect yourselves - and others - from them by securing your system. Hardware has absolutely nothing to do with the need for Anti-Virus or Anti-Malware protection, and I'd argue the honeymoon period for macOS users has ended, as well. Linux is a hodge podge of packages that all have their own security holes. I'd never use anything but a supported enterprise distro. I used to use RHEL-WS, and the errata was plenty and the security holes discussed were eye-opening. It's part of the reason I hate Linux distros that install everything and the kitchen sink by default.
  • OMG, a computer anti vaxxer.
  • Have just completed migration to Liniux Mint 19.3, I was a windows user since the start. Tired of 3rd party apps (Norton, McAfee to name a few) trying to install bloatware on to the windows 10 O/S, if already gets to many updates ( including WD, which in fairness worked OK) I run 16 machines and have no longer got to worry about the blue screen of death which has happened since the 1909 version came out. Easy to use and understand for Windows users that want to migrate, also very secure
  • Linux got me curious for my secondary PC, but I may be too busy/lazy to even try to choose which would be the best distro(?) for me. I'd probably want to try a bunch of them and that'd take too long.
  • Dafaq Pepsi want to know about my security-related info on my pc lol. I've been using WD for about 4 years now. I used to use AVG, AVAST etc because I thought that I needed a good AV and WD wasn't up to it. WD has been proven to be quite fast and very light on resources so it works nicely.
  • i use comodo, i do not trust windows Defender.
  • I spotted using third party antivirus software the day windows defender was born. I never had any issues with virus on my PC.
  • Windows Defender has been around for some time, however it wasn't always as secure as it is now. I would recommend aducating yourself on what security measures exist. Malware has been something that only recently anti-virus products have started to protect against. You might want to have dual protection with something like McAfee endpoint. Be sure that you research any product as anti-virus services can cancel each other out. You'd be surprise on what you can protect yourself from just by knowing what to look for.
  • I work for a large company. We now use Windows Defender on Windows 10 company wide. It provides solid protection. Pro:
    1 Microsoft includes Windows Defender for free with Windows 10.
    2 According to German institute AV-TEST, "Windows Defender tops recent antivirus tests" see link below. Cons:
    None. Final thought:
    For Windows 10 user there is no excuse not to use Windows Defender. Good, free, and small performance impact.
  • Been using it for years. But the office I work in *will not* use anything other than McAfee - Its worse than any malware I tells ya!