“Antivirus and Windows Defender” What’s the difference?

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We spend most of our time online. And while safety is always our main concern, there is no such thing as being “too careful,” especially on the internet. A simple click to a fake website pretending to be something else could comprise our data and privacy. And sometimes, these attacks are based on what operating system your computer is running on.

Unlike macOS and Linux, Windows is always been more vulnerable to virus attacks due to how the operating system works. More people also rely on Windows compared to any other computer systems, so no wonder most viruses were written specifically for it.

However, Microsoft has always been active patching up these security holes in Windows. And if you happen to own a computer with Windows 10, you’ll be familiar with Windows Defender.

Today, we will take a look at Windows Defender, and if it can really replace your paid Antivirus program.

What is an Antivirus, and how does it work?

An Antivirus software also referred to as anti-malware, is a program that is designed to detect, prevent, and remove malicious software from a computer. However, modern Antivirus programs can also detect and prevent spyware and adware, making it more convenient for users.

An antivirus software works by scanning your existing programs and comparing it against known types of malicious software. The program can also scan a new, and unknown malware should a computer signals abnormal behaviours. All antivirus software uses a scanning detection processes.

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The first process, the “Specific Detection”, works by scanning known malware with a specific set of characteristics. The second method is “Generic Detection.” During this process, an Antivirus software will look for malware that is a variant of known “families”, or scan a malware that shares a common codebase from known malicious codes.

During the final process, known as “Heuristic Detection”, the antivirus program will look for unknown malware based on known suspicious behaviours, or file structures.

What is Windows Defender?

Before Windows 8, Windows Defender only serves as an anti-spyware program for Microsoft’s Windows OS. For anti-malware program, Microsoft provides Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7 and below, free-of-charge. However, both the program complicates with each other.

Installing Microsoft Security Essentials will disable Windows Defender, that means users will not have protection against spyware in priority of an antivirus program. Unfortunately, it remains that way for Windows 7 and older Windows versions.

In Windows 8 and Windows 10, however, there were some changes. Instead of having them as separate software, Microsoft discontinued Microsoft Security Essentials, and renamed it to Windows Defender. That means, the Windows Defender now runs as an Antivirus program for Windows 8 and later.

As mentioned, Windows Defender for Windows 7 and below will remain as an anti-spyware. For an Antivirus program, users will need to install Microsoft Security Essentials.

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History of Windows Defender

Microsoft’s Windows Defender is based on GIANT AntiSpyWare. The program was developed by GIANT Company Software Inc. and was later acquired by Microsoft in 16th of December 2004. On 6th of January 2005, Microsoft released the first beta version of the repackaged GIANT AntiSpyWare program called Microsoft AntiSpyWare.

During the RSA Security conference in 2005, Bill Gates, Chief Software Architect and co-founder of Microsoft, announced that the program will be available free-of-charge for users with a valid license of Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. The program has also been renamed from Microsoft AntiSpyWare to Windows Defender.

On 24th of October 2006, Microsoft made the first stable release of Windows Defender available for public. Unlike the last year’s beta, the stable release will only run on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, ditching support for Windows 2000.

Windows Defender was also later released as a built-in anti-spyware component for Windows Vista, and Windows 7. However, it was later superseded by Microsoft Security Essentials, an anti-malware program. Installing the Microsoft Security Essentials will disable Windows Defender.

During the release of the Windows 8, Microsoft has upgraded the Windows Defender as an anti-virus program, using the same exact anti-malware engine, and virus definition updates from the Microsoft Security Essentials. This is because the Microsoft Security Essentials will not run on Windows OS beyond Windows 7.

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Since Windows 8 and Windows 10, Microsoft bundles its OS with Windows Defender. It is on by default, and will automatically switch itself off if a paid Antivirus software is installed. Microsoft later renamed the Windows Defender to Windows Defender Antivirus after Windows 10 Creators Update to distinguish it from Windows Defender Security Centre.

Can Windows Defender replace a paid Antivirus program?

Since its initial release in Windows 8 (as an Antivirus program), Microsoft has been keen on improving Windows Defender to protect Windows users against almost any known malware. While it’s not as feature pack as any other paid Antivirus software, Windows Defender can service our computers enough to keep us safe.

Windows Defender, aside from auto scanning programs, also downloads new virus definitions through Windows Update. It also offers free firewall protection. Yes, it won’t do a lot other than making our computer malware-free, but it is definitely better than any other antivirus software which can sometimes comprise our PC’s performance.


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