There is panic in Microsoft Defender land

This PC Mag article headline says it all: “WTF? Do I Have to Pay for Microsoft’s Defender Antivirus Now?”

Microsoft has offered antivirus protection with its operating systems as far back as 1993’s Microsoft Anti-Virus for MS-DOS. The current Microsoft Defender Antivirus started life as Microsoft AntiSpyware in 2005.

It was a bumpy ride, with the antivirus tool going through various names and sometimes earning below-zero scores in third-party tests, but with the release of Windows 10, Microsoft Defender Antivirus became a respectable (if not glorious) malware-fighting tool. One consistent factor through all these changes—Microsoft’s protection has always been free.

Is that changing? Many readers were alarmed at the recent announcement of Microsoft Defender for Individuals, which—as Microsoft’s descriptive page makes clear—is only available as part of a paid subscription to the Microsoft 365 cloud-based office service. What happened to free?

If every PC on the internet has antivirus protection, life gets tougher for malware writers. It’s harder for viruses to spread and less lucrative to plant data-stealing Trojans when most potential victims have antivirus protection. Even ransomware mills can’t strongarm as much money from victims when protection is universal.

That’s why Microsoft designed Defender to power up on any PC that doesn’t have third-party antivirus. Near-universal antivirus provides a kind of herd immunity.

Does it work? Well, Microsoft has the numbers to show it does. Representatives have pointed out that the Malicious Software Removal Tool you see with almost every Windows Update does more than just level up Defender. Unless you opt out, it provides detailed (but not personal) information to Microsoft, including your operating system, any malware detections, and what third-party antivirus may be installed. And studies based on this information show that even unprotected PCs benefit when most of their connections have antivirus.

It turns out the new app is only meant to run Windows Defender on non-Windows computers.

blog post by Vasu Jakkal(Opens in a new window), Microsoft’s Corporate VP for Security, Compliance, Identity, and Management, eventually makes it clear that this new offering strictly extends antivirus protection to platforms other than Windows. It doesn’t change the status of Microsoft Defender Antivirus. I should point out that the best macOS antivirus and Android security products almost certainly do a better job. Few are available for free, but then, this new cross-platform Defender also isn’t free.

Coincidentally, this morning I got the email shown at the bottom of this post.

You can download the app here.

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