Microsoft Windows Security Review: Minimum Effort


Formerly known as Defender, Windows 10’s built-in antivirus tool now nestles among a whole suite of built-in security modules, within an umbrella app that’s simply called Windows Security. Some of these other components extend your protection in quite nifty ways: for example, the Controlled Folder Access feature can stop ransomware in its tracks by preventing unrecognized applications from writing to your personal folders.

Microsoft’s SmartScreen technology has also evolved to take advantage of the extensive (and somewhat controversial) telemetry capabilities of Windows 10, using them to identify and block programs with questionable global usage patterns. Similar controls are built into Edge browser and Microsoft Store to protect you from suspicious websites, downloads, and apps.

The console also brings together various features scattered around the Settings app. These include Secure Boot, which can defeat rootkits by preventing the BIOS from executing the boot code without the correct cryptographic signature – and Windows Hello, which replaces your password with biometric authentication. Windows built-in parental controls are also managed from here, as is the built-in firewall.

With all of this built into the operating system, you might wonder why you would need to install additional security software. Indeed, an overall protection rating of 100% from AV-Comparatives and AV-Test reassures that if you just leave Windows with its default protections enabled, you are unlikely to be infected.

The problem is, living with Windows Security is not a pleasant experience. When the system thinks it has found a threat, it displays a terse notification, stating only that the anti-virus component “has found threats”. If you want to know what they were or what Windows did about them, you need to dig into the Security app, locate the relevant timestamp in the event list, and approve a UAC request just to see the basic details. .

This is also not a unique case – this is quite normal with Windows security. The process of authorizing an app through Controlled Folder Access is just as labyrinthine, which is perhaps why this feature is unnecessarily disabled by default. Even navigating it can be a chore: Basic security settings sit alongside obscure engineering controls, and since nearly every page is presented as a list of closely spaced text elements, take stock of what’s going on. is in front of you involves a tedious task. amount of hover and scroll. Exceptions include the firewall, which opens as a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in, and Family Security Controls, which, as always, are managed from a colorful web console.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the horrible design of Windows Security is that you can’t completely avoid it. In AV-Comparatives and AV-Test malware tests, the antivirus module registered five false positives, implying that sooner or later you may need to restore a file that was wrongly blocked. . Even after going through the headache of saving an item from quarantine, Windows will zap the file again the next time you access or scan it – unless you dig into the settings page, scroll down to the bottom and go through the laborious process of manually adding the file to your exclusion list.

If this all starts to turn off Windows security for you, this next part might finish the job: Of the security suites we tested recently, Microsoft’s own code ranked dead last in system performance. Manual scanning was also slow, and the expected completion times were unrelated to reality. At one point, the virus scanner told us that it expected it to be done in 13 seconds, when in fact there was more than six minutes of grinding left.

We would like to be more positive about Windows security. Microsoft deserves credit for always working to make Windows more secure and for bringing antivirus performance to levels that match the best paid security suites. And it makes sense to bring together the growing range of Windows security features under one roof.

Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t paid attention to the user experience, leaving us with a sprawling hodgepodge that is neither efficient nor intuitive. Perhaps the main benefit of Windows security is that the key modules disable themselves when you install a third-party alternative – which we strongly recommend you do – while the firewall and other security protections. low level continue to do their work behind the scenes.

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