Home / Windows 10

Avoiding Viruses with Windows Defender

When it comes to viruses, everything is suspect. Viruses travel not only through e-mail messages, programs, files, networks, and flash drives, but also in screen savers, themes, toolbars, and other Windows add-ons.

To combat the problem, Windows 10 includes Windows Defender, a free security and antivirus program.

Windows Defender scans everything that enters your computer, whether through downloads, e-mail, networks, messaging programs, flash drives, or discs. Unless you tell it not to, Windows Defender casts a watchful eye on your OneDrive files, as well.

When Windows Defender notices something evil trying to enter your computer, it lets you know with a message. Then Windows Defender quickly quarantines the virus before it has a chance to infect your computer.

Windows Defender automatically updates itself to recognize new viruses, and it constantly scans your PC for threats in the background. But if your PC acts strangely, tell Windows Defender to scan your PC immediately by following these steps:

  1. Click the taskbar's Windows Defender icon (shown in the margin) near the clock.
    Windows Defender appears.
  2. Click the program's Scan Now button.
    Windows Defender immediately performs a quick scan of your PC.

Even with Windows Defender watching your back, follow these rules to reduce your risk of infection:

  • Open only attachments that you're expecting. If you receive something unexpected from a friend, don't open it. Instead, e-mail or phone that person to ask whether he or she really sent you something.
  • Be wary of items arriving in e-mail that ask for a click. For example, if you receive a message saying somebody wants to be a Facebook friend, don't click it. Instead, visit Facebook from your browser and look to see whether the person is listed on your "waiting to be friended" list. The more e-mailed links you can avoid, the safer you'll be.
  • If you receive an important-looking e-mail from a financial institution that asks you to click a link and type in your name and password, don't do it. Instead, visit your financial institution's website through your web browser and log in there. Chances are good that there's nothing wrong with your account, and that e-mail was only trying to steal your username and password.
  • Updates for Windows Defender arrive automatically through Windows Update. Windows 10 keeps Windows Update running constantly, so you don't need to worry about keeping Windows Defender updated.
If you prefer running a third-party antivirus programs, you're welcome to do so. It will turn off Windows Defender automatically as part of its install process. But don't install two third-party antivirus programs, because they often quarrel.

Like several Windows versions before it, Windows 10 includes the Windows Defender antivirus program. Windows Defender runs quickly, updates automatically, and catches the most common malware before it invades your computer.

But is it better than third-party antivirus programs, including the ones that charge subscription fees? The answer depends on several things.

For example, most third-party antivirus programs will catch more viruses than Windows Defender. However, doing that extra work can slow down your PC. Some powerful security suites throw up false alarms, as well, leaving you the work of sorting out the problem.

Windows Defender works better for people who can spot a potential virus as it arrives in the mail, and avoid clicking on suspicious e-mail attachments. People who feel more comfortable with a larger safety net will prefer a paid program. There's no right or wrong answer.

Instead, your answer depends on your personal comfort level. If you find a reasonably priced third-party antivirus program that doesn't slow down your computer too much, then stick with it. But if you feel confident in your ability to weed out most potential attackers before you click on them, Windows Defender might be all you need.

Avoiding Phishing Scams

Eventually you'll receive an e-mail from your bank, eBay, PayPal, or a similar website announcing a problem with your account. Invariably, the e-mail offers a handy link to click, saying that you must enter your username and password to set things in order.

Don't do it, no matter how realistic the e-mail and website may appear. You're seeing an ugly industry called phishing: Fraudsters send millions of these messages worldwide, hoping to convince a few frightened souls into typing their precious account name and password.

How do you tell the real e-mails from the fake ones? It's easy, actually, because all these e-mails are fake. Finance-related sites may send you legitimate history statements, receipts, or confirmation notices, but they will never, ever e-mail you a link for you to click and enter your password.

If you're suspicious, visit the company's real website by typing the web address by hand into your web browser's Address bar. Chances are good that the real site won't list anything as being wrong with your account.

Both Internet Explorer and the new Microsoft Edge browser use Microsoft's SmartScreen Filter technology that compares a website's address with a list of known phishing sites. If it finds a match, the SmartScreen filter keeps you from entering. Should you ever spot that screen, close the web page by clicking the words Close This Tab listed on the warning message.

So, why can't the authorities simply arrest those people responsible? Because Internet thieves are notoriously difficult to track down and prosecute. The reach of the Internet lets them work from any place in the world, hidden beneath a mass of networks.

  • If you've already entered your name and password into a phishing site, take action immediately: Visit the real website and change your password. Then contact the company involved and ask it for help. It may be able to stop the thieves before they wrap their electronic fingers around your account.
  • If you've entered credit card information, call the card's issuer immediately. You can almost always find a toll-free, 24-hour phone number on the back of your credit card.