What’s the Best Antivirus for Windows 10?

Windows 10 won’t hassle you to install an antivirus as Windows 7 did. Since Windows 8, Windows now includes a built-in free antivirus called Windows Defender. But is it really the best for protecting your PC–or even just good enough?

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Windows Defender was originally known as Microsoft Security Essentials back in the Windows 7 days when it was offered as a separate download, but now it’s built right into Windows and it’s enabled by default. Many people have been trained to believe that you should always install a third-party antivirus, but that isn’t the best solution for today’s security problems, like ransomware.

So What’s the Best Antivirus? Please Don’t Make Me Read All This

We definitely recommend you read the entire article so you fully understand why we recommend a combination of Windows Defender and Malwarebytes, but since we know that tons of people will just scroll down and skim, here is our TL;DR recommendation for how to keep your system secure:

  • Use the Built-in Windows Defender for traditional antivirus – the criminals have moved on from regular viruses to focus on Ransomware, zero-day attacks, and even worse malware that traditional antivirus just can’t handle. Windows Defender is built right in, blazing fast, doesn’t annoy you, and does its job cleaning old-school viruses.
  • Use Malwarebytes for Anti-Malware and Anti-Exploit – all of the huge malware outbreaks these days are using zero-day flaws in your browser to install ransomware to take over your PC, and only Malwarebytes provides really excellent protection against this with their unique anti-exploit system. There’s no bloatware and it won’t slow you down.

Editor’s Note: This doesn’t even mention the fact that Malwarebytes, the company, is staffed by some really great people that we really respect. Every time we talk to them, they are excited about the mission of cleaning up the internet. It’s not often that we give an official How-To Geek recommendation, but this is our favorite product by far, and something we use ourselves.

A One-Two Punch: Antivirus and Anti-Malware

You need antivirus software on your computer, no matter how “carefully” you browse. Being smart isn’t enough to protect you from threats, and security software can help act as another line of defense.

However, antivirus itself is no longer adequate security on its own. We recommend you use a good antivirus program and a good anti-malware program. Together, they will protect you from most of the biggest threats on the internet today: viruses, spyware, ransomware, and even potentially unwanted programs (PUPs)—among many others.

So which ones should you use, and do you need to pay money for them? Let’s start with the first part of that combo: antivirus.

Is Windows Defender Good Enough?

When you install Windows 10, you’ll have an antivirus program already running. Windows Defender comes built-in to Windows 10, and automatically scans programs you open, downloads new definitions from Windows Update, and provides an interface you can use for in-depth scans. Best of all, it doesn’t slow down your system, and mostly stays out of your way—which we can’t say about most other antivirus programs.

RELATED: WHAT IS THIS PROCESS & WHY IS IT RUNNING ON PC?

For a short while, Microsoft’s antivirus fell behind the others when it came to comparative antivirus software tests—way behind. It was bad enough that we recommended something else, but it’s since bounced back, and now provides very good protection.

So in short, yes: Windows Defender is good enough (as long as you couple it with a good anti-malware program, as we mentioned above—more on that in a minute).

Antivirus Isn’t Enough: Use Malwarebytes, Too

Antivirus is important, but these days, it’s more important that you use a good anti-exploit program to protect your web browser and plug-ins, which are the most targeted by attackers. Malwarebytes is the program we recommend here.

Unlike traditional antivirus programs, Malwarebytes is good at finding “potentially unwanted programs” (PUPs) and other junkware. As of version 3.0, it also contains an anti-exploit feature, which aims to block common exploits in programs, even if they are zero-day attacks that have never seen before—like those nasty Flash zero-day attacks. It also contains anti-ransomware, to block extortion attacks like CryptoLocker. The latest version of Malwarebytes combines these three tools into one easy-to-use package for $40 per year.

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Malwarebytes claims to be able to replace your traditional antivirus entirely, but we disagree with this. It uses completely different strategies for protecting you: antivirus will block or quarantine harmful programs that find their way to your computer, while Malwarebytes attempts to stop harmful software from ever reaching your computer in the first place. Since it doesn’t interfere with traditional antivirus programs, we recommend you run both programs for the best protection.

Note that you can get some of Malwarebytes’ features for free, but with caveats. For example, the free version of Malwarebytes program will only scan for malware and PUPs on-demand—it won’t scan in the background like the premium version does. In addition, it doesn’t contain the anti-exploit or anti-ransomware features of the premium version.

You can only get all three features in the full $40 version of Malwarebytes, which we recommend. But if you’re willing to forego anti-ransomware and always-on malware scanning, the free versions of Malwarebytes and Anti-Exploit are better than nothing, and you should definitely use them.