"Do I need antivirus software?" It's one of the most frequently-asked questions by new PC buyers, as evidenced by the top search autocomplete suggestions from both Google and Bing:
Unfortunately, there's still no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. In this short guide, we'll take a look at the state of antivirus in Windows 10. The objective is to help inform you so you can make the right decision when deciding if you need antivirus software. As ever, a usual disclaimer comes first: this article is of advisory nature only, and we cannot be held responsible if your system gets infected after following the guidance.
Out-of-the-box, Windows 10 is much more secure than any previous version of Windows. You'll find Windows Defender is enabled straightaway, a built-in security suite that offers antivirus and malware protection.
For many people, Windows Defender will be the only antivirus that's required. While benchmark tests show that Defender still isn't quite as accurate or reliable as some paid third-party alternatives, it's generally capable of catching everything a typical PC user will encounter.
Defender includes periodic threat scans, a folder protection option to defend against ransomware, integrated firewall controls and automatic scanning of new files downloaded from the web. In addition, Defender includes simple parental controls to block websites in Microsoft Edge, limit purchase activities and enforce screen time controls.
Defender then is a rounded security suite with one big advantage: it's free and integrated directly into Windows 10. Security definition updates are issued daily through Windows Update, so you should never need to think about whether your system is protected. If you only browse reputable websites and exercise some caution when downloading files, you shouldn't encounter problems when relying on Defender as your sole antivirus provider.
What about the others?
This isn't quite the end of the story though. While Windows Defender is now more advanced than it's ever been before, it's still not quite as accurate or reliable as brand-name third-party providers. You can generally count on Defender to catch most major threats, but it tends to be less adept at identifying zero-day vulnerabilities in software such as web browsers.
While the short answer is that Defender is sufficient, this should be qualified with a condition: if you use Defender alone, you should remain vigilant. Although this will (hopefully!) be basic advice that you've heard before, staying away from ad-ridden, suspicious-looking websites can prevent you from coming into contact with more severe digital threats. The same goes for hyperlinks in unexpected emails – be wary of what you click.
With that said, sometimes Defender just won't be the most suitable solution. Perhaps you do have more demanding requirements of your security software, because your device is used for work and you handle sensitive files. Alternatively, you might be configuring a PC on behalf of a less technically-savvy user – in this case, you may choose stronger, third-party protection in case they do find their way off the beaten track online.
When shopping for antivirus software, you don't necessarily need to buy the most expensive product. A free or basic package will often give you all you need. More expensive suites tend to pad out their contents with unnecessary bloatware, such as system cleaners, browser extensions and adblockers. Generally, this style of all-in-one package should be avoided – much of the software is unneeded and it clutters up your system. Sometimes, the "extras" can expose security issues themselves.
If you came here looking for a short answer, we're sorry that there still isn't one available. The good news is that Windows 10's built-in protection should now be "good enough" for the majority of home users who are willing to stay vigilant online.
Ultimately, it's up to you where you draw the line. As long as you're making regular system backups, you should be able to recover from a virus should disaster strike. Ensuring you have some antivirus software, remaining aware of potentially risky activities and maintaining a regular backup schedule may be more beneficial overall than paying for a bloated third-party protection package.