/ 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.


I’m sure that many of us would like to know why the security software in Windows 8 is so much better than in previous versions. Is it just good security software or is W8 inherently more secure?

Thanks for that Jessica. Although I am a confirmed Mac user, friends often ask me for advice, information and practical help with their PCs. After personal experience with Vista I thought that Microsoft had really lost the plot, but I’m impressed by Windows 8 and so are friends who have finally switched from XP.

Hopefully Windows security remains good because dealing with malware has wasted time and money for many users in the past. Let’s hope that people don’t become complacent about malware, like many Mac users are.

I am not sorry that vendors of security software will lose out, since commercial software was sometimes no better than what was available free-of-charge.

Stephen says:
21 January 2013

I have used AVAST free and AVG free and McAfee and Trend Micro and Norton. I have found the best ones to be McAfee and Trend Micro. I found the AVAST and AVG free both missed viruses which were picked up when I used ones that you pay for. I know I had a virus as my machine was not working correctly. I still think the ones you pay for will be more effective than the ones that are free like the one in WIndows 8 or in Microsoft Security essentials.

Julian says:
22 January 2013

Interesting. This months PC Pro magazine leads on the poor quality of Windows 8 security. It points out that it updates its virus definitions infrequently, so is not aware of the latest threats. I think I will continue to install a security suite.

Creoulo says:
22 January 2013

Remember some banks give free internet security to costumers.

One example is Rapport, offered by NatWest. I doubt that this affords comprehensive protection and I have seen various criticisms.

Julian says:
23 January 2013

Indeed. Barclays customers can get Kaspersky Internet Security suite for free. This is the security suite that I’m currently using.

Of course the problem with Kaspersky is that Google Project Zero has reported vulnerabilities.
Kaspersky Lab has fixed some of the vulnerabilities in its antivirus products, but a new report from Google Project Zero reveals there’s more work to be done.

Kaspersky Lab has fixed some of the serious antivirus vulnerabilities reported earlier this month, but it still has more work to do, as Google Project Zero has reported new Kaspersky software vulnerabilities.

This week, Google Project Zero researcher Tavis Ormandy reported how he discovered some of the Kaspersky zero-day vulnerabilities, as well as how the vulnerabilities can be exploited.

In a statement provided to media outlets, Kaspersky Lab stated that the vulnerabilities publicly disclosed by Ormandy, “have already been fixed in all affected Kaspersky Lab products and solutions,” noting further that Kaspersky specialists “have no evidence that these vulnerabilities have been exploited in the wild.”
And this is Which best buy? I don’t think so.

Snowdin10 says:
27 January 2013

Could I point out that Rapport is not an anti-virus programme? If you choose to protect a website with Rapport it protects the connection to that website from the effects of malware on your system. Some sponsored sites are protected automatically and you can, when I last checked, add up to 100 “my sensitive websites.” So if you are on your bank’s website, it will block screen capture, keylogging, cookie access and re-direction to an unexpected IP address etc. It will not stop viruses landing on your computer and gathering up all your personal data for transportation elsewhere, or the use of your computer for a botnet. I have found their tech support really helpful.
Tescobank provides the similar Trust Defender, an Australian programme, which really does lock down your connection to the bank to the extend that you can’t use any other window to connect elsewhere on the internet while contacting the bank. This programme can also check that all software running is known to be authentic. If you just loaded the latest Adobe update it won’t accept it for a couple of days. It also checks for rootkits. When you connect with the bank it tells you if the connection is secure. If there is anything running on your computer it doesn’t like it goes into a special mode to doubly secure the connection. It only works for the sponsoring bank, you have to buy a “Pro Gold” version at £16.47 annually to add extra websites.

Thanks Snowdin10 for this useful information. I had appreciated that Rapport does not provide comprehensive protection. Companies offering this and similar products should make this clear in case customers assume that they are being given full malware protection free of charge.

Cribs says:
23 January 2013

Hey Jessica, you said that Security Essentials topped an antivirus test, but I guess you forgot to mention the name of the test. Because I’ve heard that SE actually failed to receive certification in the latest AV-Test session…

Jitesh says:
11 July 2014

Hii Jessica.you said that windows 8 comes with antivirus built in it..but I cant understand that if this antivirus is good o bad for me….I have dell inspiron 15 laptop in which I got windws 8.1….Mcafee antivirus..pls say about it..is this antivirus is good for my laptop….and I have a another problem that windows office 2013 which I got with windows 8.1 is not working….juct said that try to it or paid…but my friens use is for free…and told me what can I do..? pls

Ippo says:
23 January 2013

This misinformation arrived just in time to cover microsoft’s failure to deliver an effective antimalware solution.. Try to be more informed nexttime 😉

BHunter says:
23 January 2013

Thanks for the post!

AV-TEST did indeed test MSE 4.1 – in Windows 7.

Our tests at Which? looked at the new, integrated version included with Windows 8.

Our tests did find that MSE did not perform as well under Windows 7, but does seem to have undergone a significant overhaul in Windows 8. That likely explains the difference between our results – we tested Windows 8, AV-TEST used Windows 7.

Hope that helps!


im late to the party here but strongly feel i need add my opinion as i think which are talking absolute shit.

From using over 7 different internet security software suites including eset, fsecure, norton, kaspersky, trend, avg free and microsoft essentials. If i were a hacker, id want you to use microsoft security essentials because id be signifigantly more likely to access your computer, and independent tests concludes that too. Even microsoft themselves! recommend you use somebody else. so i find it rather amusing that which recommend pretty much the worst security suite out there.
now either i have no idea what im talking about, in which case just use microsoft and i hope ur a savvy person ( with over 200million virus’s and more than 30,000 being created every day, odds are you’ll catch one and never know about it because microsoft will never find it. to the average internet user out there id recommed avg free (still shit but better than micosoft) or avast if you refuse to pay for security or are a little above the average user and can fix your pc if you get a virus. if your the type of person that does not want any hassle or does not want a higher potential for your pc to get infected id recommend buying, kaspersky, bitdefender or f secure. (kaspersky potentialally free for 1-2years for barclays bank customers and f-secure free for one year with virgin media if your with sky or bt you can possibly get mcafee as part of your tv,broadband package, they’re not the best but still half decent and free if your one of their customers, so might as well use them.

this is all just my opinion so take that however your want, but from working in the industy for a good time now and seeing various friends/family members using avg/micrsoft because “jimmy said its the best one to use so he put it on my pc for me” well firstly “jimmys know f**k all about computers, he just knows 1/10th more than you which is barely anything. then they wonder why their pc is so bad 2years after buying it.
anyways if you got this far thanks very much have a good one 😉

So now you have established beyond any doubt that the best security software is free, when will Which expose the practice of salespeople in the big chains scaring PC innocents into buying Norton that is totally unnecessary.
It has become the extended warranty of 2013…

John Duncan says:
25 January 2013

Having recently bought a new computer running Windows 8 I find that I cannot even access Windows Defender – when I open the app it simply says ‘Windows Defender is turned off and isn’t monitoring your computer.’ No suggestion as to why that is, which I presume because the pre-installed Norton 60-day trial has blocked access to it. So my assumption is that once my 60 day trial is up I can remove Norton and then will be able to access WD. I figured it out, but it’s not exactly intuitive.

It’s all very well saying how good the built-in security is on Windows 8 and that you don’t need anything else, but in reality this security is all too often replaced by third-party security software which, after expiry of its trial period, if you don’t pay it leaves your PC with no protection (unless you are an experienced computer user who knows how to fix this issue.) The third party vendors pay the PC manufacturers to have their software on new PCs and the consumer has no say over their inclusion. I remember some time ago Which? did publish a complaint about ‘bloatware’ appearing on new PCs, and this trend continues. This time it’s not just bloatware, it’s a potential security risk for those who are not confident with operating system administration.

BK2beingME says:
17 May 2013

even tho ur post is very informative,u forget to mention HOW to rmeove that vloatware and even more important,the registry-remnants…
answer is easy,google “Revo Uninstaller”
not only does it uninstall the app,it also stops any related services that might still b running,
as well as a thorough scan AFTER the uninstall to remove EVRYTHING related to the program uve uninstalled…
after uninstall,best to do a registry defrag,and tadaaa,ur all set
now u CAN restart ur built in defender…. which i strongly advise AGAINST…knowing MSE trackrecord….
personally i favour ESET,their 6th gen can either be used as AV only,OR u can install the entire suite which gives u antitheft options,a better firewall,as well as the antivirus

My Windows 8 doesn’t appear to have any built in security. (If it’s hidden somewhere, how do I turn it on?) My new laptop came with a 2 month subscription to McAfee, which is about to expire. I was going to renew the McAfee. Are you sure I don’t need to?

Ah, I have found Defender (by using Search rather than looking for it in the list of installed programmes)! Have tried switching off McAfee firewall but even with that done, I can not switch on Windows Firewall. I guess it is necessary to let McAfee expire, remove it and then switch on Defender?

Have deleted McAfee, apparently without any problems. During the deletion process Windows Defender “popped up” and appeared to switch itself on.

Another episode in the Which/Microsoft lovefest. Before accepting this endorsement seek out an independent review.

PeterD says:
2 June 2013

Unfortunately, most other “independent review” websites not only review AV software but also receive kickbacks from the manufactures for promoting it – including for free versions that then nag you into l upgrading to a paid for version. Which? do not receive revenue from AV manufacturers which probably explains why their view may not coincide with websites that do.

I have found Avast positively brilliant. Not as clunky as AVG, which itself is OK. Don’t know what more you can expect for free!

Peter says:
25 January 2013

The best security move I ever made was to switch to Linux. I’ve never been so secure on line.

I used to have McAfee on a PC and found it very difficult to remove. To be fair to McAfee, they do allow one to download a program which totally removes the program and allow other applications to be used. I have always used Norton and find it very good. It is updated several times a day, or so it seems, and I always manually update to ensure I get all of the updates and not just the ones for anti-virus. I cannot really see Windows 8 being better than Norton in terms of security as I would think that being a specialist company in this field Norton/symantec must have a much bigger global team working around the clock to protect its customers from attacks. I do think, however, that the Internet is much better policed than it was in the early days of dial up connections and the risk of picking up a virus have been greatly reduced. The main concern now seems to be Internet fraud.
I am running Windows 7 at the moment and don’t normally upgrade until the first service pack is released as this normally means that most of the problems have been ironed out and that most drivers and apps are available and run correctly.

Peter says:
27 January 2013

Windows 8 Defender IS Microsoft Security Essentials as used on Windows 7, just rebranded.
“In Windows 8 and Windows RT, Windows Defender provides the same level of protection against malware as Microsoft Security Essentials. You can’t use Microsoft Security Essentials with Windows 8 or Windows RT, but you don’t need to—Windows Defender is already included and ready to go.”

Jurgen Watson says:
27 January 2013

I’m happy using the AVG paid for security for my PC & Laptap, & now my wife wants to get an Ipod which can also be covered. It’s not expensive, but gives added peace of mind.

Redhead says:
30 January 2013

Good luck on trying to uninstall Norton Antivirus
It should be renamed Klingon as it is extremely difficult to get rid of.
I bought a PC, new, six years ago, with Vista installed along with Norton on a 60 day trial.
I did not enable Norton as I was using Avast Free, but every time I switched on the PC, Norton came up insisting I must turn it on as my PC is unprotected, I think it refused to accept Avast already being installed
Eventually I was told of a programme which will clear out Norton and finally I was free.
I am still using Avast and, so far, I haven’t had any problems with bugs etc.

Matt says:
16 June 2015

you had two negatives there my friend Vista and Norton.
in tests Windows 7 outperforms Vista by miles, me and loads of others had problems with Vista.
It would have been ok had they just tested it properly, i found the free Norton annoying.

Gerard Phelan says:
31 January 2013

You must uninstall an existing anti-virus / security system such as Norton or McAfee before installing another such as Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG or Avast. It is NOT good enough just to turn it off using any built-in facilities. As others have written this can be hard to do and may require more computer skills than the average user may have available.I have struggled in the past even though I have worked as a problem resolver for my companies PC support teams.

The benefit of the paid for systems is that they bring together many different security tools and in theory if not always in practice are easier to setup and use. In fact Which? regularly writes reports describing and analysing these facilities!

dennis says:
1 February 2013

steddyeddy likes his Avast,as do I,but it drives me wild with frequent pop-ups e.g telling me every time
it has blocked a Trojan.The duration of such messages can be minimised,but there is no obvious way
to remove them completely.I may be driven to change my A-V provider!

moaner says:
8 February 2013

i used to use norton 360 and was reasonably happy with it until the year was up and they tried to con me in to downloading next years update for £60+ when it was available on amazon for less than half that amount. i ordered from amazon and the package never arrived so after that i gave up and settled for microsoft’s free protection and haven’t paid for anti virus or firewall protection since. no complaints so far.