Do you need to pay for antivirus?

Windows Security vs. Paid Antivirus

For years, we’ve been bombarded with warnings about lurking online threats, prompting many to invest in pricey antivirus software. But with Windows Security, a robust built-in security solution on modern supported versions of Windows, is paying for additional protection really necessary?

Windows Defender: A Force to Be Reckoned With

Windows Defender is the core antivirus and anti-malware protection included in Windows Security. Contrary to its earlier reputation, Windows Defender has evolved into a capable security solution. Independent testing labs like AV-TEST consistently award it high marks for malware detection, real-time protection, and performance. In fact, some recent tests show it performing on par with several popular paid antivirus programs.

Advantages of Windows Defender:

  • Cost-effective: It’s completely free and comes pre-installed with Windows, eliminating the need for additional purchases and subscriptions.
  • Seamless integration: It’s deeply integrated with the Windows system, offering smooth background protection without resource-intensive scans or pop-ups.
  • Automatic updates: Microsoft constantly updates Windows Defender with the latest threat signatures, ensuring you’re always protected against the newest malware.
  • Low system impact: Unlike some resource-heavy antivirus programs, Windows Defender runs efficiently, minimizing its impact on your system’s performance.

Is Paid Antivirus Still Worth It?

While Windows Defender provides solid protection for most users, some situations might warrant additional security measures:

  • Advanced users: If you engage in high-risk activities like downloading cracked software or visiting questionable websites, you might benefit from dedicated anti-exploit tools or sandboxing features offered by some paid antivirus programs.
  • Parental controls: Some paid antivirus programs offer comprehensive parental control features, which can be helpful for families with young children.
  • Identity theft protection: Some programs go beyond malware protection and offer additional features like identity theft protection or anti-phishing measures.

If you need advanced protections listed above, consider Microsoft Defender that’s included with a Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscription that also includes current versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.

What’s the difference between Windows Defender and Microsoft Defender?

There are some subtle, but important differences between the Windows Defender included with Windows and Microsoft Defender that comes with Microsoft 365. Here’s a breakdown:

Windows Defender (built-in with Windows):

  • Basic protection: Covers essential security features like real-time malware scanning, firewall, and basic system protection.
  • Free to use: Comes bundled with Windows, so you don’t need to pay anything extra.
  • Good for everyday users: Offers adequate protection for browsing, emailing, and basic online activities.
  • Limited features: Lacks advanced functionalities like parental controls, ransomware protection, and advanced threat detection.
  • Management through Windows Security app: Provides basic configuration and monitoring options.

Microsoft Defender for Individuals (included in Microsoft 365):

  • Enhanced protection: Builds upon the core features of Windows Defender, adding advanced functionalities like:
    • Ransomware protection: Helps prevent and recover from ransomware attacks.
    • Phishing protection: Blocks deceptive emails and websites designed to steal your personal information.
    • Parental controls: Sets limits on screen time, website access, and online purchases.
    • Advanced threat detection: Offers deeper analysis of potential threats and vulnerabilities.
    • Security dashboard: Provides centralized management and monitoring across multiple devices.
  • Subscription required: Available with Microsoft 365 Personal or Family plans.
  • Suitable for power users and families: Ideal for those who need more robust protection and parental control features.
  • Higher system impact: Some advanced features might consume more system resources.
  • Management through Microsoft Defender portal: Offers detailed security reports, threat investigations, and advanced configuration options.

Choosing the right version:

The best version of Windows Defender depends on your needs and budget:

  • Windows Defender is sufficient for:
    • Basic computer users who primarily browse the web, check email, and use popular applications.
    • Users who are mindful of online security practices and avoid high-risk activities.
  • Microsoft Defender for Individuals is recommended for:
    • Users who engage in frequent online activities like online banking or downloading files.
    • Families with young children who need parental controls and monitoring tools.
    • Users who want advanced threat detection and comprehensive security management.

Ultimately, both versions of Defender offer valuable protection. The choice comes down to whether you need the additional features and management capabilities offered by the Microsoft 365 version.

Security for macOS

Macs have built-in security features similar to Windows Defender, called Gatekeeper, XProtect, and System Integrity Protection (SIP). These features offer robust protection against common threats like malware and viruses. Additionally, Apple’s App Store has stricter review processes compared to Windows, making it less likely to encounter malicious software.

Security for your mobile device

Whether you need antivirus software for your iOS or Android device depends on a few factors:

General Security of Mobile Platforms:

Both iOS and Android have security features built-in that significantly reduce the risk of malware infection.

  • iOS: Apple’s App Store has a highly controlled environment with strict app review processes, making it unlikely to encounter malicious apps. Furthermore, iOS sandboxes apps, limiting their access to other system functions and data.
  • Android: While the Google Play Store is less restrictive than iOS, Google Play Protect constantly scans for threats and automatically removes harmful apps. Additionally, Android’s open-source nature allows for independent security researchers to identify and report vulnerabilities.

Reasons to consider antivirus for mobile:

  • Downloading from outside app stores: If you sideload apps from outside the official app stores (Android) or jailbreak your device (iOS), you significantly increase the risk of encountering malware. Antivirus software can provide an extra layer of protection in such cases.
  • Advanced features: Some antivirus apps offer features beyond malware detection, like anti-phishing protection, anti-theft tools, and VPN services. These can be valuable depending on your needs.
  • Increased risk from browsing or clicking links: Clicking suspicious links or visiting unreliable websites can still expose you to malware, even on mobile platforms. Antivirus software can provide additional protection in such situations.

Before buying antivirus for mobile:

  • Free vs. Paid: Free antivirus options exist for mobile, but paid versions often offer more comprehensive features and better support.
  • Battery life and performance: Some antivirus apps can be resource-intensive and drain your battery faster. Choose one with a proven track record of low impact.
  • Reviews and comparisons: Research different antivirus software before making a purchase. Read reviews, compare features, and ensure the program is compatible with your phone and operating system.


For most users who stick to downloading apps from the official app stores and practice safe browsing habits, the built-in security features on iOS and Android are sufficient. However, if you sideload apps, jailbreak your device, engage in high-risk activities, or desire extra security, consider a reputable antivirus app with features tailored to your needs.

Remember, staying vigilant and being cautious about your online activities is crucial for mobile security, regardless of your antivirus choice.

Other choices provided by your Internet Service Provider

If you prefer other choices not provided by Microsoft, local Internet Service Providers AT&T and Charter Spectrum offer security suites as part of their Internet subscriptions:

Antivirus programs can’t protect against…

Antivirus programs don’t detect all viruses or malware, and they can’t protect you in the case of human error. Examples of common user errors include divulging login credentials or financial information on fake websites or to untrusted individuals, and social engineering scams in which miscreants will attempt to convince people of a problem in which they need remote access to your device to help solve. Read: An Antivirus Will Not Protect You from User Error.

It’s best to stay vigilant, suspicious and educated about online threats and scams, and our reading our monthly newsletter can help.