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

When Microsoft integrated Microsoft Defender into its Windows 10 operating system, it was somewhat of a revelation. Usually, free anti-spyware and anti-malware software can be somewhat pointless, falling to do what it was originally developed for: protecting a computer.

However, Windows Defender certainly isn't a damp squib, offering tools that many of its competitors charge a premium for. Of course, don't expect the full lineup of features that Norton or McAfee provide, nor should you rely on stability.

Sometimes, pre-installed security tools such as Windows Defender can upset the balance of security and you may find that some features don't work properly, especially if you've shelled out on one of the paid-for examples above.

If this is the case and you uncover a conflict, you'll probably want to consider disabling Windows Defender to get your machine back up and running seamlessly again.

Advertisement - Article continues below

But a word of warning - if you do decide to switch Windows Defender off and your third-party malware software expires, you won't be protected again until you flick the switch to reactivate Defender.

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

Although free software is usually a bit lacklustre when it comes to functionality, Windows Defender is actually one of the better tools for protecting your PC.

It boasts real-time analysis tools, cloud-based protection and malware removal, and you won't have to view ads or add extras on to keep your PC protected. There is no premium version, either, so there are no nagging messages or popups asking you to upgrade.

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're looking for an icon resembling a castle wall.

It may be with the hidden items, so click the upwards arrow and take a look inside.

If the icon appears and there is not a cross (X) beside it that means Defender is running, and you shouldn't need to take any further steps. If it does not, or you'd like to turn it off, read on for more.

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.

Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

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.

Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

Featured Resources

The IT Pro guide to Windows 10 migration

Everything you need to know for a successful transition

Download now

Managing security risk and compliance in a challenging landscape

How key technology partners grow with your organisation

Download now

Software-defined storage for dummies

Control storage costs, eliminate storage bottlenecks and solve storage management challenges

Download now

6 best practices for escaping ransomware

A complete guide to tackling ransomware attacks

Download now


operating systems

Windows PowerToys customisation project returns

10 May 2019
operating systems

How to factory reset Windows 10

26 Mar 2019

Google confirms Android cameras can be hijacked to spy on you

20 Nov 2019
operating systems

17 Windows 10 problems - and how to fix them

4 Nov 2019

Most Popular

identity and access management (IAM)

44 million Microsoft customers found using compromised passwords

6 Dec 2019

Five signs that it’s time to retire IT kit

29 Nov 2019
Microsoft Azure

Microsoft, not Amazon, is going to win the cloud wars

30 Nov 2019
Microsoft Windows

This exploit could give users free Windows 7 updates beyond 2020

9 Dec 2019