Windows Defender (Finally) Earns Top Antivirus Marks

Hang onto your hats, because the pulse-pounding world of antivirus software just had a major upset.

After years of lagging behind competitors, Microsoft Windows Defender has earned a coveted AV-Test "Top Product" award. The free, built-in antivirus software in Windows 10 performs just as well as — or even better than — many of its paid competitors. Your Windows PC can now repel the vast majority of malware threats right out of the box.

Credit: Microsoft

(Image credit: Microsoft)

AV-Test, a German testing lab, periodically evaluates security suites for Windows, Mac, Android and occasionally Linux systems. As recently as 2015, Microsoft Windows Defender ranked among the weakest antivirus programs on the market.

Since then, however, Microsoft has been making steady strides toward the top, and the tech giant's efforts finally paid off in AV-Test's latest rounds of tests. While it has yet to achieve a perfect score — something that rivals Avira, Kaspersky Lab and McAfee were able to accomplish — Microsoft can finally make a convincing argument that you don't really need to install a third-party antivirus program to protect Windows 10. (Microsoft's Windows 7 security protocols earned similar accolades back in March.)

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For those of you not familiar with AV-Test's protocols, it rates software out of a possible 18 points: six for protection, six for performance and six for usability. Anything that gets a 17.5 or 18 is a Top Product; anything that gets below a 10 is not recommended. This time around, all 18 programs evaluated did pretty well.

Avira Antivirus Pro, Kaspersky Lab Internet Security and McAfee Internet security all earned perfect 18s. (McAfee, like Microsoft, was an underdog in AV-Test's rankings for a long time.) Ahn Lab V3 Internet Security, Avast Free Antivirus, Bitdefender Internet Security, Microsoft Windows Defender, Microworld eScan internet security suite, Symantec Norton Security and VIPRE Security all earned 17.5 points apiece, which also made them AV-Test Top Products.

At the other end of the spectrum were Comodo Internet Security with 15.5 points, and F-Secure Safe with 16 points. However, since both of these programs earned perfect 6s for protection, they are capable of keeping your PC safe; it's just a matter of performance and usability.

BullGuard Internet Security, G Data InternetSecurity, K7 Computing TotalSecurity, PC Pitstop PC Matic and Trend Micro Internet Security all earned 16.5 or 17 points, which means they're all reliable and functional, but not the absolute best the AV market has to offer.

No matter what program you use, though, there's a lot of good news in this round of AV-Test's rankings. More than half of the programs tested earned top marks, and even the laggards stopped just about every piece of malware dead in its tracks. Furthermore, thanks to Windows Defender, you can now keep your computer pretty safe just by following recommended Windows protocols.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.