Ask LH: Does Microsoft Security Essentials Make Windows 8 More Risky?

Dear Lifehacker, Now that Windows 8 has Microsoft Security Essentials built in, does it become the lowest-hanging fruit and therefore mean I need to upgrade to a third-party antivirus solution? I’ve been running MSE on Windows 7 with great detection rates, few false positives and a minimal impact on performance. It was by far my favourite anti-virus solution but if everyone has the same level of protection does it become the lowest hanging fruit and the target of more attacks, meaning I will need to upgrade to third-party antivirus software to give myself better protection? Thanks, Root Ninja

Dear Root Ninja,

I’ll say “no” to this question, mostly because the Windows 8/Microsoft Security Essentials combination does not represent the “lowest-hanging fruit”. Right now, the lowest-hanging fruit is still Windows XP and Windows 7 systems that don’t have any security options running, or which haven’t been patched or updated for a considerable period of time. There are far more of those machines out there right now than there are systems running Windows 8, so anyone looking to develop and distribute malware is still going to pay more attention to those platforms. That will change eventually as Windows 8 becomes the norm, but that’s a process that will most probably take years. It’s also worth remembering that not everyone who runs Windows 8 will use MSE; many people will still run third-party software, especially if they want to protect multiple devices at once.

No doubt some malware writers will attempt to develop systems to disable or circumvent Microsoft Security Essentials in its Windows 8 guise. Similar attempts have been made to disable other security solutions in the past (it’s a tactic especially beloved by developers of ransomware). However, the barrier for finding exploits that can do this constantly gets higher; Windows is well-engineered from a security perspective. And such attempts certainly don’t mean MSE is a waste of time; we’ve always found it an effective solution, and running detection software is a core part of good security practice.

No security software is perfect, and no operating system is immune from attacks. But I can’t accept the idea that MSE being available on Windows 8 systems makes matters worse. It makes matters better. It won’t be the solution everyone uses, and that’s fine; choice is important. But if you’re happy with it on Windows 7, you’ll still be happy with it on Windows 8.


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