How to turn on Windows Defender

Find out how to turn on, or off, Windows Defender on Windows 10 and older versions of Windows

Windows 10 Defender

Windows Defender is Microsoft’s anti-malware component for Window. Initially released with Windows Vista and Window 7, Windows Defender is now an integral security component of Microsoft’s latest operating system. 

It offers a suite of anti-malware tools that are enabled by default when Windows 10 is installed and booted up. However, people with existing third-party antivirus and cyber security packages might want to use them instead of the Windows Defender. 

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Having Windows Defender enabled at the same time as other security software could cause problems with third-party antivirus tools, so in this case, you might opt to turn Windows Defender off. 

But if your subscription to a third-party antivirus runs out, or the version becomes severely outdated, you might want to switch Windows Defender back on.

We'll go into more detail about how to turn the free security software on and off further down the page, but if you're wondering when to use Windows Defender, here's your answer.

Why you should use Windows Defender

Windows Defender is surprisingly well-featured for a free anti-virus, and to some it might be all the cyber security they might ever need. 

With cloud-powered protection, real-time analytics, and the ability to remove detected malware threats, Windows Defender is no cyber security weakling. And despite being free - if one doesn’t count the outlay for a copy of Windows 10 - it doesn’t come swaddled in adverts to distract and nag you into buying a premium version.

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Secondly, there's no need to install anything, or download anything besides routine and necessary updates that can be handled through Windows Update. Windows Defender is built into the Windows operating system and just turning on Windows 10 will give you full access to the antivirus platform.

Although it's free and effective, Windows Defender will probably not be the most advanced for the highest security needs - for instance rolling out antivirus across an entire organisation, or if you hold highly sensitive data on your computer, but it's more than enough for the average user.

How to check if Windows Defender is running

The first thing you'll want to do is check whether Windows Defender is on or off. To do this, take a look at the notifications area along the Taskbar (to the left of the time display, and just before the end of the Taskbar). 

You'll need to find a small icon resembling a castle wall, although this may be found in items that have been hidden from view. Clicking the upwards-pointing arrow should expand the icon tray and show all apps running. 

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The Windows Defender icon should appear in this tray with a cross (X) if it's been turned off, and should be lacking the cross if it's running. There are no longer any steps you need to take if you'd like to keep it on, although read on if you're keen to turn it off.

How to turn on Windows Defender

1. To begin, click the Start menu (or on the start screen in Windows 8) and type "Defender" into the search bar (you can also press Windows key + Q to bring up the search bar needed). This shortcut will launch the search function on your system.

Windows Defender should appear in the results list. Click it to launch the program. If it is up and running, and takes you straight to the program's dashboard, skip ahead to step five.

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2. A message may appear now, saying: "this application has been turned off and isn't monitoring your computer". If so, search for "Action Center" in the Start menu (or start screen on Windows 8), and click it to open.

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3. Once in the Action Center, click on the Security tab to see which program is managing Spyware and unwanted software protection'. If you want to replace an existing anti-spyware suite, such as AVG Free, and enable Defender, you should first uninstall the current suite via the Programs menu in the Control Panel.

On Windows 10, things are a bit different. You need to open the Control Panel (but not the Settings app), and head to System and Security > Security and Maintenance. Here, underneath the same heading (Spyware and unwanted software protection'), you will be able to choose Windows Defender. But again, make sure you uninstall any existing software first.

4. Now that you have uninstalled any existing anti-spyware or anti-virus programs, type "Defender" into the Start menu again, and click on the program. If it's disabled, you will be greeted with a message telling you so, and there will be a text link, saying: "Click here to turn it on". Go ahead and click the link to enable Windows Defender.

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5. If your computer isn't already protected, you should be taken to the Windows Defender dashboard. Defender may well be out of date, so it is advisable to start by updating its protection software. Click on the Updates button, and follow the steps to install the latest Defender updates.

6. When you see a comforting green bar, Defender has been fully updated, and is ready to protect your computer.

If you click on the Tools link, and then on Real-time protection in the left-hand pane, there are also a number of additional options for scanning downloads, attachments and programs that are well worth enabling, too.

How to turn off Windows Defender

To turn off Windows Defender perhaps to install or return to using alternative anti-spyware software follow these steps.

1. Click the Start menu (or on the start screen in Windows 8) and type "Defender" into the search bar, and click on Windows Defender when it appears. You will be taken to the program's dashboard.

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2. On Windows 7 or 8, go to the Tools menu, and then click on Options. From here, click on Administrator in the left-hand pane, and, finally, uncheck the box for Use this program'.

On Windows 10, things are a little more direct. Once you've opened the program, you'll see the Settings dashboard (You can also get here via Settings > Update & Security > Windows Defender). Now toggle the Real-time protection setting from On' to Off'. You can also turn off the Cloud-based Protection option if you wish.

3. You will then be notified that the program is off. That's it. Remember, however, that you will be unprotected if you don't have an alternative anti-spyware or anti-virus software.

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