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

You may have heard of the pre-installed software found on Windows machines designed to act as malware protection that is called Windows Defender. This handy tool was originally released for Windows Vista and Windows 7, and can be found on current versions of the operating system, Windows 10.

When you start up your Windows 10 machine, its suite of anti-malware tools should be enabled by default to give you some protection. Despite this, a number of people have third-party cyber security packages also installed on their device and often prefer them to Windows Defender.

The problem is that when Windows Defender is enabled at the same time as a different security package, it can cause issues for that software’s antivirus tools. If this happens, it is recommended to turn Windows Defender off.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that Windows Defender comes free with your Windows-based machine and you don’t have to pay a subscription for it. If your third-party antivirus tool becomes outdated, or the version you use runs out, you’ll be expected to pay to get it back on or updated. Obviously, this is one of the benefits of Windows Defender and maintaining it active on your computer.

Why you should use Windows Defender

At first glance, Windows Defender might not seem as anything exceptional, especially compared to more popular antivirus alternatives offered by Norton or McAfee. However, Windows Defender is an obvious winner in at least one field: cost. After all, Microsoft’s security staple is completely free to use, and comes with a pretty impressive set of appliances. From malware detection and removal tools to real-time analytics and cloud-enabled protection, Windows Defender is the perfect antivirus for those who are happy to stick to the basics. In fact, it might be difficult to find another free alternative which is as well-equipped as the Defender and won’t bombard you with ads and pop-ups. 

What is more, when it comes to the Windows Defender, you don’t have to worry about the installation process. The tool is with you from day one, having been embedded in your device’s operating system. The only thing which you should keep an eye out for is the occasional update, and that can be easily downloaded and carried out through Windows Update.

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Although free and convenient, Windows Defender isn’t completely faultless. This was the case in March 2020, when Windows 10 users reported receiving messages that the antivirus was skipping files when conducting scans, despite not having any exclusions configured in the preferences. This was due to a bug stemming from a configured exclusion or network scanning setting which was confirmed to have affected both Quick and Full scan options, leaving users potentially vulnerable to malware.

All in all, Windows Defender is a convenient antivirus tool which makes security freely available to every Windows user. However, if your livelihood depends on the highly-sensitive data stored on your computer, you might want to invest in more advanced software.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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