Cyberthreats are only becoming more prevalent in our digital world, and the risks posed by these threats are concerning for both individuals and organizations alike.
Computer-related attacks are increasingly the cause of critical data loss for SMBs, costing companies money that could have been saved had proper security measures been put in place.
The nature of these attacks varies from data theft, data corruption, or data encryption (i.e., ransomware).
To help combat these consistent attacks and thus protect your devices, antivirus applications were developed. And one of the most common antivirus applications is Microsoft Defender, as it’s the default antivirus that comes pre-installed on all Windows devices.
However, people have reported mixed feelings about the efficacy of Windows’s default antivirus program and have questioned whether they should turn to third-party alternatives.
Is Microsoft Defender good enough to protect small to medium businesses such as yours? In short, yes, but there’s more to this story that we think you should consider.
By the end of this article, you’ll have explored Microsoft Defender antivirus enough to have a solid understanding of its capabilities, why it isn’t quite enough, and what alternatives we recommend you consider for your business.
The Unnerving Growth of CyberCrime
To give proper context to the dangers of cybercrime, consider that, in 2020, global losses from cybercrime rose to almost 1 trillion dollars.
Had more organizations been better prepared to defend against cyberthreats, global losses would have been much lower, but most business owners simply don’t imagine getting hit by an attack until it does.
The number of cybercrime incidents was exceptionally high in 2020 due to the large-scale transition to remote work, which created the perfect storm for cybercriminals because most employees were unaware of cybersecurity best practices.
As a result, most personal remote workspaces were left unprotected. Devices that had Microsoft Defender had at least one-line of defense; to find out why it wasn’t enough, read on.
What Microsoft Defender Is and Does
Microsoft describes Microsoft Defender as next-generation protection, saying:
“Microsoft Defender Antivirus is the next-generation protection component of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. This protection brings together machine learning, big-data analysis, in-depth threat resistance research, and the Microsoft cloud infrastructure to protect devices in your enterprise organization.”
Microsoft goes on to describe Microsoft Defender’s capabilities, such as:
- Behavior-based, heuristic, and real-time antivirus protection — The program is continuously scanning your systems using file and process behavior monitors, as well as other types of heuristics. This is also known as real-time protection. This capability detects and blocks applications that it flags as unsafe.
- Cloud-delivered protection — Your antivirus software should be able to deliver near-instant detection/blocking of new and emerging cyber threats. Microsoft Defender’s cloud technologies utilize large sets of interconnected data and AI systems to accomplish this. Keep in mind that the cloud-delivered protection requires an active connection to the internet to function, just like other cloud systems.
- Data protection and product updates — Microsoft Defender takes advantage of the Microsoft Advanced Protection Service (MAPS), which, among other things, installs periodic security intelligence updates to deliver more excellent protection continually. Microsoft Defender also requires monthly updates that also occur alongside Windows 10 releases.
All of this is to say that Microsoft Defender is expertly designed to protect Windows Devices from malware and other common cyber threats. Back in the day, it was just a simple anti-spyware tool built for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.
Those days are long gone, and since then, it’s been upgraded into a complete antivirus program.
But just because it’s a complete antivirus program doesn’t mean it’s “top class.”
Microsoft Defender is great at protecting your computer from traditional viruses or Trojan Horses, similar to any standard antivirus. However, like other standard antivirus programs, it’s not sufficient to defend against more advanced malware and ransomware attacks.
Why Microsoft Defender Isn’t Enough
Having Microsoft Defender on your device is better than not having any antivirus at all. Since it’s free and pre-installed, Microsoft deserves credit for looking out for its customers in no small way.
That being said, the pre-installed defense program will likely only handle smaller and older forms of cyberattack.
If Microsoft Defender is going against a trojan method from 10 years ago, your device will be safe. Still, its threat detection systems and databases aren’t kept as up-to-date as other more capable antivirus programs.
Keeping such systems and databases up to date is a critical point here because new forms of malware are being released into the wild all the time. And if you’re getting a malware solution, it should have strong ransomware protection, which Microsoft Defender struggles with.
Good ransomware protection software will give you the ability to rollback your systems before the ransomware incident occurred.
It should also keep a detailed record of how the ransomware entered and spread throughout your systems, thus allowing you to seal any cracks in hindsight.
In other words, your ransomware program should not only protect your device it should also help you learn how to anticipate and block potential future attacks.
While Microsoft Defender has undoubtedly made progress since its early iterations, it’s still not a strong enough defense against sophisticated cyber threats.
Microsoft Defender is a great free solution, but given the damage that can be dealt to companies by advanced cyberthreats, paying for greater protection is well worth the cost.
Your Business Needs More Than Antivirus
If your computer were the only way for cybercriminals to break in and hurt your business, having an antivirus program might be enough to protect your data and systems, and that’s a big might.
But cybercriminals are creative, and there are other ways for them to breach your data security.
As mentioned earlier, they can use malware to steal, corrupt, or encrypt your files, and the malware that’s out there can attack not only your computer but even your smartphone and other mobile devices.
General internet-of-things (IoT) devices in your business’s office space are also at risk of being hacked by cybercriminals; such cases are actually expected to rise in frequency given that more and more companies are adopting smart tech.
Another avenue cybercriminals take when seeking to breach your business’s security is hacking into public wifi networks that are often used at cafes or restaurants.
Suppose a criminal has the wherewithal to get the right tools. In that case, they can spy on what you’re doing online, monitor what forms you’re filling out, and steal otherwise private information you’re communicating while connected to public wifi.
If you’re unlucky, they may even use that information to upgrade their nefarious activity into a phishing attack, using your business credentials to trick other members within your organization to give up even more valuable data.
Incidents of identity theft described above are increasing, no doubt in part due to the proliferation of remote work worldwide. Unfortunately, antivirus isn’t a reliable way to protect your business’s critical data from threats like this.
This should not come as a surprise, of course. When defending anything of substantial value, a business should employ multiple defense layers to anticipate better and counter various angles of attack.
In the next section, we’ll explore some solid alternatives to Microsoft Defender, but you might even try using some of them in tandem with the program.
Solid Alternatives to Microsoft Defender
As mentioned earlier, Microsoft Defender is a great starter antivirus given that it’s reasonably comprehensive, pre-installed, and free. But it doesn’t make the cut when it comes to protecting your business’s IT security from sophisticated cyber threats.
There are solid alternatives that you can use instead of Microsoft Defender, such as:
Sophos Intercept X
Sophos has been in the IT security business since the 80s, and the sophistication of their products is a good show of their veteran status.
Its Intercept X platform utilizes endpoint detection/response (EDR) and deep learning AI to deliver an outstanding IT security service.
If your business has an IT team responsible for protecting multiple endpoints, this product is definitely for you as it’s capable of defending hundreds and even thousands of them simultaneously.
It isn’t OS-specific, so it’ll work regardless of whether you use a fleet of Macs or a fleet of PCs. It also functions on virtual machines and cloud-based infrastructures. Its protection even covers your mobile devices—and it has its Chrome extension.
Some features of Intercept X’s Endpoint features include:
- Multi-layer endpoint protection that blocks various types of threats.
- A comprehensive, robust self-service security management interface that displays security alerts.
- Malware detection can detect threats that are known and never-before-seen.
- The ability to avoid false-positives so that it doesn’t prevent you from accessing or interacting with legitimate sites and software.
- Creates and surfaces a list of potential threats that you can review further.
- Protection from ransomware and other exploitation attacks using two solutions— 1) CryptoGuard, which monitors for encryption processes that attempt to hijack your business data. 2) Exploit Prevention, which keeps an eye out for the tools and techniques used when cybercriminals attempt to exploit you and cause zero-day exploit attacks.
- A Threat Analysis center gives you a run-down on where threats originate, shows its chain of attack, and provides suggestions on handling the threat.
- Reporting and analytics solutions that log and report on its thorough security insights, all visualized on an easy-to-navigate dashboard.
Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)
Traditional firewalls, which are becoming increasingly outdated, aren’t enough to protect your business against data theft. It’s for this reason that your business should opt for an excellent next-generation firewall like Sophos XG.
These types of firewalls are unique for many reasons, including their ability to inspect at the application level, prevent intrusion from more sophisticated cyberthreats, and take advantage of valuable data from outside the firewall itself.
NGFWs are a go-to device for SMBs, especially for those in office environments.
Some features of Sophos XG include:
- Packet-filtering firewalls guarantee the inspection of incoming and outgoing data packets before greenlighting their access.
- Circuit-level gateways that provide User Datagram Protocol 9UDM) and Transmission Control Protocol 9TCM) for connection security.
- Stateful inspection firewalls that are capable of identifying whether or not packets attempting to gain access to your network are malicious or safe—and respond accordingly.
- SSL packet inspection, which prevents malware transmission via encrypted connections.
- Robust threat security reporting that is customizable and visualized in an easy-to-understand layout.
- Application-level gateways can detect and stop attacks that might otherwise slip through the cracks, such as attacks attached to HTTP requests.
- Site to site virtual private networks (VPNs), which are ideal for securely connecting to different workstations located on-premise, a feature that’s perfect for teams that have to work remotely for a temporary period.
- The synchronization of your firewall and endpoint security to properly defend against malware, viruses, and other more sophisticated forms of cyberattack.
Email Security Systems
Email security depends as much upon your security solutions as it does your people.
Standard email security that isn’t able to predict threats before they hit you isn’t going to keep your business safe in the long run, which is why you should invest in more modern email protection services like Proofpoint Email Security.
Some features of this product include:
- Blocking Business email compromise scams, malware, and phishing attacks.
- Email warning tags to bring suspicious emails to your attention.
- Can scale for large enterprises with complete flexibility, as well as the ability to create customizable email firewalls with rules at the global, group, and user level.
- Automation to deliver operational efficiencies for security and threat response.
- Integrated email authentication, encryption, DLP, Targeted Attack Protection, and other extended protections.
A Holistic IT Security Strategy
Using any one of these tools will not give you the security level your business needs to stay safe in our modern digital age.
However, when combined with solid business continuity and disaster recovery plans (BCDR) and with consistent IT security awareness training, your company will be more than ready to stop or respond to any threat that comes your way.
When generating your BCDR plans, consider the various scenarios and levels of business disruption that may impact business operations.
Each business will have its variables to keep in mind during this process, but keep at least these situations in mind: How will your company respond to a disruption that occurs on-premise? What about offsite? What about local, regional, or even national disruptions?
When putting together your IT security awareness training, you’ll want to put into specific policy protocols that must be adhered to, such as who has access to specific critical files and who should be reported to in the event of a disruptive event.
Awareness training should be conducted at least on an annual basis, and all new employees should be required to go through the training as part of their onboarding process.
Comprehensive Security = Protected Company
Although Microsoft Defender is insufficient for protecting your business’s IT security, it’s still a good baseline of any Windows device defense. But when it comes to defending your business’s critical data, you’re going to want to go with more than any single antivirus.
When you take a comprehensive IT security approach, you leave little to no room for intrusion by unwanted entities.
- The Growth of Cybercrime — The threat of cybercrime has only continued to rise over the years, and businesses that have failed to adapt to sophisticated cyberattacks have paid the price. The best way to avoid being hurt is to armor up with top-notch IT security.
- What Is Microsoft Defender and What Does it Do? — Microsoft Defender is the next-gen protection component of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint—its protection is cloud-delivered. Real-time antivirus protection has periodic updates to its software to deliver the most up-to-date protection at all times.
- Why Microsoft Defender is Insufficient — While having Microsoft Defender on your device is better than having nothing, it still falls short of being able to protect against malware, ransomware, and other more sophisticated forms of cyberattack that could put your business in jeopardy.
- Your Business Should Have More Than Antivirus — In the same way that having Microsoft Defender isn’t enough to adequately protect your business, having any antivirus as your only means of protection is insufficient to modern-day cyber threats. A comprehensive IT security plan should include a solid antivirus, next-generation firewall, email security, and IT awareness training.
IT Security is a Heavy Burden—Don’t Lift it On Your Own
It’s one thing to run a successful SMB; it’s another thing to adequately protect it from the vast number of cybercriminals who want to exploit it for their own gain.
This is why it’s critical to have your own IT staff who work tirelessly to anticipate and deflect unwanted entities trying to breach your systems.
However, not everyone can have a dedicated in-house IT team, so many rely instead on a managed service provider like Commprise.
It often makes more sense to go with an MSP even when you have the capacity for in-house IT staff due to an MSP’s price efficiency, flexibility, and ability to scale with your company’s needs.
If you’re interested in taking IT security’s weight off your company’s shoulders, consider our Managed Security Services.