This is just one step in a series created to help anyone improve their online security regardless of their technical knowledge. For more information, see our complete Simple Online Security series.
Whether using a Windows PC or a Mac, most people don’t need to buy antivirus software—as long as you download only from trusted sources and refrain from clicking on sketchy links, you can avoid many of the problems that third-party antivirus software purports to protect you from. But as a backup for anyone on a PC, the free tool included with Windows, called Windows Defender, is typically as reliable as any paid software.
On Windows 10, to make sure Defender is enabled, click the Start menu, type “defender,” and open the Windows Defender Security Center. Once it opens, make sure Real-time protection, Cloud-based protection, and Automatic sample submission are all enabled. For another layer of protection, you can also enable the Windows Defender Firewall by clicking Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Security > Firewall & network protection and then flipping the toggle to On.
On Windows 11, click the search icon and then search for and open “Windows security.” Click Virus & threat protection and look for the Manage settings option. Click that and confirm everything is enabled. From this menu you can also enable the Firewall: Click Firewall & network protection on the menu on the left side and then select the option under Public network.
Enabling antivirus isn’t the only step in securing your Windows PC, though, and we have more suggestions for protecting Windows.
Despite what some people think, Macs can get malware, but we still don’t recommend installing an antivirus utility. Instead, we suggest being careful with downloads and sticking to software from the Mac App Store when possible. When you do need to install software from outside the store, be mindful of what permissions it asks for. You can also turn your Mac’s firewall on, which helps restrict connections when you’re using unapproved apps. Head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall and click Turn On Firewall.
If you’re comfortable using more technical tools, security researcher Patrick Wardle offers a set of free Mac security tools, including LuLu, a firewall that can help identify malware. Otherwise, you can use the free version of Malwarebytes to scan and remove malware if you suspect that you’ve downloaded something nefarious.
We also have more tips for locking down your Mac.
Read more about antivirus software.
This article was edited by Arthur Gies and Mark Smirniotis.