Viruses are still a huge problem in 2021. But it isn’t only viruses you should be worried about. Criminals want your personal information – your identity, your bank and credit card numbers – so they can take your money.
And they’re doing this in ever more elaborate ways, from fake apps (with download links often shared on social media) to fake websites that look like real ones but steal your login details and personal information.
Modern ‘antivirus’ software does a lot more than watch out blocking and removing viruses. The best should protect you and your data no matter what device you’re using, which is why it’s a great idea to pick a security suite that runs on your phone and tablet as well as your Windows 10 laptop and PC.
Many packages now include a VPN service to give you extra security and privacy while you browse the web, and warn you if malware is trying to access your device’s camera and microphones. They also include password managers which remember all your logins so you can have different passwords for all your accounts.
The latest feature being added is identity protection, which tends to monitor the dark web for your email addresses, passwords and other personal information, giving you an early heads-up that you need to take action.
So, calling it antivirus or only considering how effective a suite’s antivirus engine is only a small part of the overall security you should be getting in 2021.
What this all means is that you simply can’t afford not to have top-notch security software running on every Windows device you own. Windows is still the biggest target (with Android the other major one).
Does Windows 10 come with antivirus software?
It does indeed: Windows Defender. Windows has had virus protection for many years, and the latest iteration found in Windows 10 is the strongest it’s ever been.
If your laptop or PC didn’t come with any other antivirus software pre-installed then Windows Defender will already be protecting your system.
Given that Defender’s protection is just as good as the best antivirus software, you can relax in the knowledge it’s keeping your laptops and PCs safe. In AV-Test’s most recent report covering May and June 2021, Defender stopped 100% of ‘known’ viruses and also 100% of zero-day (unknown) attacks.
Microsoft’s offering should also have the advantage of being baked into the OS, but in fact it has a higher drag factor when it comes to system resources, causing apps to load more slowly than if you ran a paid-for security product such as Norton 360.
But much more importantly than this, it doesn’t offer those extra features you get with paid-for security suites either, so you’re not as well protected from dangerous websites, scams lurking in social media feeds and in phishing emails.
Of course, it still has advantages: it doesn’t cost anything and you don’t have to install it or configure it in the first place. But remember that it’s not giving you the all-round protection that the best packages offer, so it’s hard to recommend you use it with no other protections in place for your identity or indeed your non-Windows devices such as your phone.
Why pay for antivirus software?
That, of course, is the obvious question. But if you’ve been paying attention to this point, you’ll already know the answer.
We’ve already mentioned that Defender can slow down app loading times more than some rivals, but there are other advantages of paid-for security software. Namely, it provides a wider range of features in terms of how they protect you – not just your PC.
From alerts when apps want to access your webcam to notifications that your email address was exposed in a data breach and warnings of fake and dangerous websites, it’s best to get comprehensive protection so you can browse the web without constantly worrying if your personal information is falling into the wrong hands.
Paid-for antivirus software is regularly updated and new features added, so while it’s yet another thing you have to pay for, it could save you a lot more than you spend on it.
If you want to see which security suites we recommend, then check out our roundup of the best antivirus. Our top picks at the moment are Norton 360 and McAfee Total Protection.
Bottom line: if you want the best protection, pay for security software. Often a single subscription will protect your whole family’s devices including mobile phones and tablets.
What can I do to beef up Windows 10’s security for free?
You can’t get the same level of protection for free without a whole lot of work and, in some areas, at all.
But there are things you can do. Here are two you should do straight away:
A good password manager such as Bitwarden will store all your logins and enter them when you need to log into an app, website or service. It might mean changing duplicated passwords on a lot of sites, but aim to have a different, strong password for all websites and services that store personal information that you wouldn’t want to be compromised.
Secondly, a VPN encrypts your internet connection and helps to add security and offer privacy while you visit websites, download files and other online activities. You don’t need to use one all the time, and you should only use a trustworthy VPN service, but there are some good free services to choose between.
Be very careful what you click on
Many of the scams these days work by tricking you into clicking on links in emails, which then downloads malware, or clicking through to fake versions of websites which then ask you to log in, therefore stealing your account details.
A good rule of thumb is to always navigate to a site yourself. If you get an email saying your account password needs changing, or even that there’s a great sale on, then don’t click on the link. Instead, go to your browser and type in the address of the site. If the sale is real, then you’ll be able to find it.
Be very cautious about links in emails or social media messages too, as these can be just as perilous. Basically, treat every link or download as suspicious, and you can avoid a lot of problems.
Here are common scams to avoid.
Make regular backups
Another way to protect your data is to make regular offline backups. Yes, using online services is a good idea, and as you’ll see from our best cloud storage roundup there’s plenty of choice, but with Ransomware becoming more of a threat we’d also highly recommend creating your own local, offline backups too.
Follow our How to backup Windows 10 guide for more details on the software you can use, and how to set up a regular schedule for protecting your precious data.
Don’t use an Administrator account
Another thing you can do, especially if you want to add protection to laptops or PCs that your kids use, is to avoid using Windows accounts with Administrator privileges. This simple modification can eradicate many of the threats out there, as malware, spyware, and the like will not be able to install itself.
To do this you’ll need to create a new Administrator account (as you’ll want one on your system), then change your existing account to a Standard one.
This can be achieved in Settings > Accounts > Family & other people, where you add either a family member or a generic account.
Set this as an Administrator, then log out of your existing account. Log in as the new one, click on your normal account and when the option to Change account type appears click on it. This opens a window where you can select to make that account either Standard or Administrator.
With this up and running it should offer a fair amount of protection from accidental downloads with malware under the covers.
If you do find that certain programs you use regularly require the higher-level access, then you can always give that a special pass. Read How to run programs as Administrator in Window 10 for more details.
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