/ Technology

Why pay for antivirus? Windows 8 tops security software tests

Man with Windows 8 laptop

You don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your PC free from viruses. In fact, could the results of our latest security software test spell the end for standalone security programs?

How many of you keep your computer safe by using security software? And how many of you, once the Norton trial period has elapsed, just leave it to chance? I have to admit that I fell into the latter category with my first laptop. And let’s just say it didn’t end well for the laptop.

I actually have some good news for both camps. Not only does Microsoft’s Windows 8 come with free inbuilt security software, it topped our security software table this year.

Check out our Best Buy antivirus software table and the Windows 8 security software review specifically.

Stay safe and save money

This means that lazy people like me don’t have to worry about installing extra antivirus programs. And if you’re already good at keeping your computer safe, you no longer need to turn to pricey third party software. Yes, Windows 8 beat out all the paid-for software as well. If you don’t want to upgrade to Windows 8, Microsoft Security Essentials is a good bet and happens to be free too.

The security software built into Windows 8 has the right mix of keeping your computer safe from digital attacks, while also being very easy to use. It comes with lots of other handy features, such as parental controls to keep innocent eyes from seeing sites they shouldn’t. You can even manage the time your kids spend online to ensure the computer isn’t used after lights out.

It has great protection against malware, even blocking the download of malware in a zipped file. Many other packages don’t even look into zip files. Other standout features include being integrated with Outlook 2013 and auto-scanning when you  insert a USB stick. It also has a strong two-way firewall that lets you set different levels of security for different scenarios, eg in a café vs at home. All of this is packaged together as part of the Windows 8 operating system.

What’s the future for security software?

In the early days it seemed Microsoft didn’t pay much attention to security, leaving the door open for security companies to build their business around Windows. Now the tables have turned, with Microsoft launching Windows 8 and its outstanding inbuilt security software.

Will this mean a decline in traditional security software sales? What will familiar names like Norton do in the future?

My guess is that, since the threat of viruses is ever developing, there will still be a place for security software companies. They may also turn their attention to newer technologies like tablets and smartphones – both of which face potential security threats. As for PCs – would you trust security software built into your computer’s operating system?

[UPDATE 29 June 2015] – Since the date of this Conversation, we have significantly changed the way we test security software. We decided that it was no longer appropriate to report on Windows 8 security in the same way that we do on third-party anti-virus software (whether paid-for or free) and so it does not appear alongside our other product reviews.

That said, Windows 8 has strong built-in security and antivirus features, and Which? has found that it is not absolutely necessary to use additional security software if you have installed Microsoft Security Essentials.

ShayKaPow says:
26 March 2013

I have to say when I used Windows 7, I always used Microsoft Security Essentials which was great. Windows 8 has the built in Defender which is Microsoft Security Essentials and it’s still one of the best antivirus app. Lightweight and simple to use and does the job better than other security vendor products.

For example the FREE version of antivirus app from other security vendors have advertisements which I can understand but then again even with paid versions you still get advertisements to upgrade and get add-ons which I think should be removed from paid versions. Microsoft security products don’t have any sort of advertisements.

Security vendors know that Microsoft Security Essentials is a huge threat to them and now that Windows 8 has it built in many customers won’t even bother looking at paid antivirus. Paid Antivirus apps are overpriced and full of advertisements these days.

[This comment has been edited to remove an advertising link. Thanks, mods.]

I have only recently downloaded and use Microsoft Security Essentials, alongside my Norton 360, Security Essentials is picking up High and Medium threats that Norton has not picked up, like today Essentials picked up Adware;win32/open candy a medium threat and removed it, I will be contacting Norton to give me some answer as to why they have not detected this threat, and make my decision to keep or stop 360 by the answer they give.

Matt says:
16 June 2015

I was told that Norton is the worst you can use because it slows your computer down and never had good protection because in the lab they didn’t test it properly

suman roy says:
6 May 2013

does any anivirus require for nokia lumia 520 windows 8 phone? plzzzzzzzzzzz rplyyy

ezz69 says:
1 October 2014

Hi suman roy

You do not need any antivirus for your Nokia Lumia 520, all apps are vetted and scanned by Microsoft before they allow then in their store.
Also if you look through Windows app store you will not find any antivirus or malware apps to download.

Sandeepan says:
6 May 2013

Thanks for helping in understanding the problem once again.
I was using AVG since 2006 and since 2011 Avast (Both Free Versions) Antiviruses.
With the coming of Windows 8, bundled with its inbuilt security I really never felt like using any other for the trouble till date.
I use to be online a lot and download too, but may be I now am experience to find the right websites and files. And I am sure any test with any online gaming and dating site will reveal a lot. Just remember days from 1998 till 2004, there was like at least a virus in any given PC during any part of the month. Then came along the Security Suites and thus I personally feel its lot safer now.
And Windows 8 features are amazing! After XP professional SP2 its the best versatile OS for sure.
Any new thing is a trouble in the beginning but once we understand it, then we love it like none!

Hi Jessica,

it is good to know window 8 has built-in security software, I just bought a new PC with window 8, how do I get to window defender?

Many thanks,


ShayKaPow says:
12 May 2013

Move your cursor all the way to the bottom right corner, the bar on the right side will appear.

1. Click on Search
2. Type Defender
3. Run Windows Defender


Many thanks for your instruction step by step. However, it shows” Window defender has been turned off and is not monitoring your computer”. I am wondering maybe my laptop has 3rd party security software installed at moment as McAfee security software is on and will be expired in July 13.

I just bought the laptop with window 8 recently, I am not quite sure what I need to do next to turn on window defender when McAfee is expired?

Many thanks for your advices.

Kindest Regards,


ShayKaPow says:
13 May 2013

Best thing to do is, uninstall McAfee.
Search for Control Panel > Uninstall A Program
Remove McAfee and all related McAfee products and then restart laptop.

Defender should automatically turn on if it doesn’t you need to click the white flag on the bottom right task bar and follow instructions on how to enable.

Many thanks for your prompt response, what happened if I wait till McAfee expire in July 13?
Do I still need to unstall McAfee first before turn on defender?

Many thanks,


ShayKaPow says:
14 May 2013

You can wait until expiry date. You need uninstall McAfee in order to enable Windows Defender.

However McAfee is bloatware. Uinstall McAfee and just use Windows Defender 🙂

I uninstalled Mcfee after trial date and used their tool but now my defender wont update and my scan goes so far then repeats itself i am sure it is macfee doing this but am lost as what to do next without installing some other kind of malware I dont know. Update says I am not online and cant update error ox8024402c

Several questions circled around built-in security software for Window 8.

I uninstalled McAfee today in order to enable Window Defender. When I re-started PC and tried to run Window Defender, it is not turned on automatically, then I clicked white flag on the bottom right task bar to enable window defender.

Window defender has 4 tabs: Home, update, history and setting.

1. In the “Home” tab, which option do I need to choose? full scan or quick scan?
2. In the “Update” tab, how often do I need to manually update?
3. In the “History” tab, currently “quarantined items” are ticked from the past scan, what about the option of “All detected items”?
4. In generally, how often do I need to run window defender to ensure my PC is best protected from virus?

Many thanks for your guidance.

Kindest Regards,


Matt says:
16 June 2015

how often do I need to run window defender to ensure my PC is best protected from virus?
Depends how often you use your Computer and what you do it’s always good to do a full scan once a week, full scans are most effective.

Make sure you update Windows defender using the update tab first before you run a scan for best results

Yep, Matt’s suggestion sounds spot on to me, Ron. If you’re particularly concerned and use your computer regularly, you may even want to run a daily quick scan as well to be on the safe side. This runs in the background and shouldn’t slow down your system too much.

DURGA says:
25 July 2013

hi, i am having Nokia Lumia 520. Whether i have to install anti virus software..?

This is the kind of thing Which? is really good for Thanks team!). As a user of AV software, you can tell if it seems to be using a lot of resources, or bothering you with lots of messages and tasks. But you can’t tell much about how effectively it is actually protecting you from threats: as a general user you shouldn’t be nuts enough to try to infect your computer deliberately, as Which? can do. As a general user you’re hopefully left having had no malware problems, which could be your excellent AV software, or just luck!

Andrew says:
7 June 2014

I have a Nokia Lumina Windows 8 phone. What protection is installed? Is there a need for anything additional and, if so, what would you recommend?

It’s now January 2015 and Which? has just published the latest “Test Lab. Security Software”
There is now no mention of Windows 8 but only that Microsoft Security Essentials in Windows 7 is no longer a Best Buy and has been omitted from the Best Buy Table.
It then adds “It’s a solid option for Windows 7 users, but should always be used in conjunction with the default Windows 7 security tools.”
It is almost exactly two years since Jessica Moreton posted “Microsoft Windows 8 topped the Which? anti-virus test. We put the biggest names in security software through a rigorous set of tests to see how they handle threats and how easy they are to use.”
Would she or one of her colleagues like to comment?

Owen Jacobs says:
2 March 2015

I want a antivirus

Morning Owen – I’m delighted to let you know that our Tech Research team have reported about several antivirus software here:


You may also find the following guide about choosing the best security package useful:


It is now June 2015 and this week’s “Weekly Scoop” has its leading article on “Stamp out phishing threats”
Is it still the view of Which? that:

“Microsoft Windows 8 has strong built-in security and antivirus features, and Which? has found that this means you don’t need to use additional security software if you’re running Windows 8.”

This I found by following the useful link supplied by Andrew Collins in the previous contribution to this thread.
Please can we have an update on if those with Windows 8.1 (Soon to be Windows 10) need invest in further protection.

The weekly scoop on 20 June repeats much of the commentary but further confuses the situation.
The comment about Which? finding no requirement for additional security for Windows 8 is repeated but under FAQ I see there is “If you are installing a third party piece of security software make sure you uninstall Microsoft Defender.” The first section “Security software program reviews” has
“Get the best security software to protect your computer with a Best Buy
Find out whether free security software works as well as paid-for software
We’ve tested security software from brands including McAfee, AVG, Norton and Windows”
Then, in the list of the 24 programs reviewed, there is no further mention of Windows.

Please can we have a clear opinion?

Hi maxwild. Thank you for your comment and apologies that this is not clearer.

To clarify, the main reason there appears to be some contradiction in our advice is because this Which? Conversation post is almost two-and-a-half years old. Since that time, we have significantly changed the way we test security software and decided that it was no longer appropriate to report on Windows 8 security in the same way that we do on third-party software (whether paid-for or free).

That said, we stand by our recommendation that you have cited with regard to the strengths of Microsoft Windows 8 Security Essentials.

And it is also correct that if you decide to buy a third party package, you should uninstall Microsoft Defender.

As to your point about the fact that Windows is mentioned on the ‘Security software program reviews’…I absolutely agree – very confusing. I will be removing this mention shortly.

Sorry but I am still confused.
You have changed your methodology so the security of Windows 8 (soon to be 10) cannot be ranked against third party software.
But you stand by your recommendation about the strength of Windows 8 Security Essentials. ie We don’t need additional security software.
Does this mean that you could have prefaced your latest report:
“We recommend that if you are running Windows 8.1 (soon to be 10) then you do not need additional security software. You may want to disregard this advice and install third party software. If so these are our recommendations:”
Daft, I know, but I think this is implied by your comments.
Thanks for contributing to this thread.

Blimey! That was quick. Not quite my words but nearly(!!) as good as:

“That said, Windows 8 has strong built-in security and antivirus features, and Which? has found that it is not absolutely necessary to use additional security software if you have installed Microsoft Security Essentials.”

Slight obfuscation to use the word “absolutely” to qualify “necessary” but I am not complaining!

simon says:
26 May 2016

Need anti virus for mu phone

Paul says:
11 April 2017

Linx 7 intel Quadcore 32gb 7″ Windows 8.1 TABLET Do I need Microsoft Security Essentials, (or something), for this tablet? Is it also possible to install Malware Bytes, also? Please be explicit. I am new to all of this. Thank you.

This comment was removed at the request of the user