Microsoft changes behavior of Windows Defender in Windows 8

In Windows 8, Windows Defender is actually Microsoft Security Essentials. Those who have installed Windows 8 may have noticed that Microsoft has rechristened Microsoft Security Essentials as Windows Defender. In its earlier iterations, while the former offered anti-virus protection, the latter gave anti-spyware protection. In Windows 8,  Microsoft has decided to combine both these protections in one program and call it Windows Defender.

According to Microsoft:

Microsoft Security Essentials will not be needed on Windows 8. We remain committed to providing strong protection of Windows 7 and earlier Windows users with Microsoft Security Essentials. Both are based on the same core technology (engine, signatures, filter driver), but Windows Defender on Windows 8 also provides additional functionality, such as integration with Windows 8 secured boot.

Given the fact that most Windows 8 home-users would be very happy using the default Windows Defender and the Windows Firewall to protect their computers, we had wondered earlier if the other security companies and the OEMs would take it lying down quietly – since this step was sure to affect their bottom-lines.

Windows Defender on Windows 8

Well, it looks like Microsoft has now made some changes in the way Windows Defender on Windows 8 will behave.

When you buy a computer, it typically comes installed with a lot of trialware, crapware or bloatware, including trial versions of antivirus and security software. The OEMs make money from installing these trial software and the security software companies make money when someone buys the product at the end of the trial period. This works to a big chunk of money.

When the trial period expires, the user is constantly reminded to buy the software. When Windows Defender detects that the  antivirus definitions are outdated, Windows 8 will now start a count-down for 15 days. During this period of 15 days, the Action Center will continue to warn the user to update their antivirus definitions or install a security software.

At the end of 15 days, the warning will expand and offer multiple options:

  • The user can renew their existing antivirus software
  • Uninstall their existing software and activate Windows Defender or
  • Select another security software from Microsoft Store
  • Click on the Remind me later button – which now starts another 7 day countdown.

Windows 8 will activate Windows Defender only if it detects that the computer is not protected by another security program.

It sure looks like Microsoft is giving these third-party vendors first crack at protecting PCs.

In an email reply to ComputerWorld, Gary Davis, director of global consumer product marketing for McAfee, said:

It is our understanding that this was mostly because of pressures from the OEM community.

Well, whatever the reason, if I understand this correctly, the Windows 8 user, for the in-between period, could end up with an expired security software on his computer – and not have Windows Defender activated.

As a Windows 8 user, you will therefore have to remember a few things:

You really don’t need to install a 3rd party antivirus or security software as the included Windows Defender and Windows Firewall will keep your Windows 8 PC protected from all security threats. But if you want to, go ahead by all means.

– If you have installed Windows 8 on your existing machine, you can continue to use the in-built solution or install a 3rd-party antivirus software or security software, as long as it is compatible with your new OS. In such a case, Windows Defender will de-activate itself.

– If you have bought a new computer with Windows 8 pre-installed, chances are it will come with a trial version of some security software. You may continue to test it for the duration of the trial period, if you wish. On its expiry, Id’ urge you to promptly uninstall it or renew it. If you decide to uninstall it, make sure Windows Defender is activated. Till such a time that the user uninstalls the expired security software, Windows Defender will not offer to activate itself automatically, within the 15 day grace period.

Please do not wait for the in-between period of 15 days, during which time your PC may remain unprotected since the trial software will not get new definitions and Windows Defender will remain in a deactivated state.

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of TheWindowsClub.com, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.