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Issue #874: April 21-27, 2024

Q: I have been subscribed to Norton 360, but I’ve decided it’s too expensive to maintain so I will not be renewing. I’m just wondering if there are less expensive alternatives or if my Windows 10 operating system is sufficient.

 – Patricia F.
Niceville, Florida

A:  Thanks for writing, Patricia.  I’m hung up on one word in your question.  In fact, the very last word: “sufficient.”  Sufficiency is such a subjective concept, which, by definition, is going to mean something different to each person.  Do you mean sufficient for day-to-day use?  Sufficient to browse out to dangerous websites?  Sufficient to keep all malware at bay?  Something else?  So, I’m going to shy away from terms like that, and instead try and use more objective terminology that should mean the same thing to anyone who reads it, regardless of the situation.

Viruses have been such a pernicious threat for so long that there came a time a few years ago when Microsoft decided to just add antivirus capability directly in the operating system itself.  This took the form of a feature called Windows Defender.  Now, one might think that having a built-in antivirus capability would make the need for a 3rd-party antivirus a moot issue.  One would be mistaken.  Don’t get me wrong — Defender is considered a very good and highly effective antivirus tool.  But you may have noticed that none of the 3rd-party antimalware vendors have been driven out of business yet because of its existence.  That’s because Defender is, first of all, a virus scanner, and not a malware scanner.  And second, although it is excellent at detecting and stopping already known, established, so-called legacy viruses by scanning for their signature (a kind-of electronic fingerprint) it doesn’t have any heuristic abilities to detect virus-like activity or viruses that don’t have a known signature.

There are also entire other classes of threats out there that Windows 10’s built-in antivirus can’t detect.  Off the top of my head, I can think of threats like phishing attacks, zero-day software vulnerabilities, browser protection for attacks such as cross-site scripting, drive-by downloads, SQL injection, and so much more.  You need a full-on anti-malware package to do all that.

Interestingly enough, many of the third-party anti-malware software vendors offer free versions of their pay-to-use products. It seems like this is right up your alley, since price is the primary stumbling block between you and your current anti-malware solution. What exactly is different between the free and paid versions varies from vendor to vendor, so you’ll probably want to do some research.  If you’re looking for an easy place to start, you can either go a Google search for something like “Best free antivirus” or if you’d rather, just head over to to view an article called “Top 10 Best Free Antivirus Software (2024)” from an independent reviewer that calls itself Antivirus Software Guide.  This is actually a pretty good article, and since I have a longstanding policy of not recommending or endorsing specific products or services that I haven’t personally reviewed, this is a good alternative.

So, yes, the capabilities built-in to Windows 10 offer some protection, but not anything nearly close to what the product you’re currently using offers.  With all the threats out there, and the number increasing every day, I don’t recommend that you rely exclusively on the built-in Microsoft tool to protect you. 

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May 2024

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