Microsoft has struggled with keeping Windows secure as the operating system has become popular. I’m not convinced that Windows security is good enough anymore. They added Security Essentials and later Windows Defender, but these were tacked-on attempts to keep their users from switching.
Is Windows 10 security good enough?
Windows security is not as good as its competitors. Windows users need to layer additional security software and data backups when using Microsoft’s operating system. The alternative operating systems were built to be secure from ground-up.
Let’s go through some of the problems with Windows and how to make them better. We’ll also take a look at the competing operating systems (OS) like Linux, Mac, and Chrome OS.
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I’ve used versions of Microsoft’s operating system since Windows 3.1 in middle school. In the early days of the Internet, the average user didn’t give much thought to data security and privacy.
Sitting down at my first job, I realized that the Windows 2000 desktop in front of me was the first user version that addressed security without impacting usability. Early adoption of new Windows versions typically trending upwards for both business and now personal users as TechRepublic reported, but this is not a good thing.
Windows XP was Microsoft’s most enduring version, but each version after has had problems with performance, stability, digital rights management, or compatibility.
Windows 10 improved in many of these areas. But, security professionals still recommend adding antivirus software in addition to the built-in Windows Defender. Antivirus products like BitDefender and Malwarebytes offer free versions that provide malware protection. I’ve used both of these for years personally. They run alongside Windows Defender effortlessly.
Microsoft offered a free version upgrade to Windows 10 from previous owners. While this has mostly been a great trade up, it’s been at the cost of security and privacy.
Now, Microsoft tracks customer usage and operating system performance remotely offering these as conveniences to their users. Your data and metadata (data about data) reveals a lot about you as an individual. With Microsoft’s history of poor security and transparency, users should closely consider alternatives.
The first alternative to Windows 10 that people think of is Apple’s macOS. Not just from the billions spent advertising their products, but the Apple ecosystem and usability excel at both business and personal tasks. It’s a great choice for users wanting a company to support their computer and software.
Apple’s operating system is built on Unix which was designed for security and stability from the beginning. Some argue that virus software is not necessary for macOS. In general, it’s good to install an antivirus program like BitDefender unless there’s a specific need to exclude one. Even a full-featured security center from Intego or Kaspersky provides additional security features like ransomware protection alongside antivirus protection.
All computers including Macs are vulnerable to attacks. But, a proactive user on Mac is much more secure and private than the same user of a Windows computer.
The trade-off here is the price tag on Apple is much higher than other options.
For a more affordable option, look towards a flavor of Linux.
I wiped my personal Windows laptop and switched to Linux with no out-of-pocket expense. My machine runs faster, more securely, and I’m more confident that my data is not being uploaded to a corporate server.
Consider these Linux advantages
- Try it on your computer before switching without losing your system.
- Choose from several distributions (flavors) each with its strengths.
- Runs efficiently on older computer hardware reducing cost and e-waste.
- Provides a large library of free software.
- Software packages and OS updates regularly update to the latest version.
- Is mostly open-source allowing for review & rapid improvement.
- Has no single company you have to depend on or include their spyware violating your privacy.
- Designed for security and stability with no need for system-level antivirus protection (like Windows Defender).
That last one could also be a disadvantage. The Linux ecosystem consists of numerous volunteer enthusiasts, so there’s not a single company to go to for help.
With a smaller number of users, Linux distributions are less-targeted for attacks. I typically do not install antivirus software when setting up a Linux machine. For those users that do want an antivirus program, the GOTO is ClamAV which is free of charge. I’m still searching for a good security package with ransomware protection. For now, I depend on my scheduled backups for assurance though this won’t get me a perfect score for best practices.
The largest downside for me is that Linux and Windows are not compatible. I work for a company that uses Microsoft technology. I have extra steps in Linux to program for Windows systems.
Google’s lightweight operating system, Chrome OS, on a Chromebook is designed on top of Linux as a browser-in-a-box type computer making antivirus software unnecessary. In fact, general users cannot install any programs relying on Chrome extensions for additional functionality.
If most of your daily computer tasks consist of email, word processing, Internet browsing, etc, Chrome OS might fit your needs.
Handling these lighter user tasks means that the operating system runs on inexpensive hardware to deliver an experience that meets most average user needs. The various Chromebook manufacturers and Google are your support contacts in case you need help. However, you’ll likely find little-to-no problems due to the simplicity of the system.
In 2008, Google released the open-source version, Chromium OS, to let users to inspect security and help enhance the operating system.
The consumer version, Chrome OS, layers Google’s proprietary services on top of the open-source version. Your data and activities are recorded to your Google account in their cloud servers. It’s important to weigh this as an advantage or disadvantage for yourself.
You can try out Chrome OS via the Chromebook Simulator.
Have to Stay with Windows. Really?
If you need to keep using Microsoft Windows 10, challenge that concept.
Why? Is there software that requires too much learning to switch away from? Is moving your data off Windows too time-consuming? It’s just what you’re comfortable with and knows how to use?
For the die-hard Windows users here’s a checklist to help you survive:
- Remove pre-loaded software from Microsoft and any manufacturer-included software (bloatware) that you do not use regularly.
- Create a new local, non-Microsoft account with limited privileges, and use it as your daily system login.
- Add one additional virus & malware protection suite alongside Microsoft Windows Defender.
- Ensure each security package has real-time protection and it’s enabled.
- Keep Windows 10 updated with the latest patches including Windows Defender updates.
- Pay particular attention to updating your applications, virus software, and malware protection.
- Disable unnecessary permissions in the control panel and security center that don’t get in the way of your daily tasks.
- Have daily backups of your data on a local external hard drive and also remotely to trusted cloud storage.
- Stay safe by not opening suspicious emails or attachments.
- Be cautious about what links you click and websites you visit.
Windows security is not good enough. There are better ways to protect your data and privacy.
Here’s the quick, bottom-line, recommendation/choice list:
- switching from Windows.
- want to use your current or choice of computer hardware, old or new.
- care about your data security and privacy.
- rate yourself as a 6-out-of-10 on the technical scale and/or eager DIYer.
- enjoy mostly free-of-charge software.
- like the ability to “test drive” before switching.
- select a distribution that works best for you.
- switching from Windows.
- want to have a company supporting you.
- not as concerned about price for hardware and software.
- like high-end hardware that will last several years.
- prefer having some of your data and information secured by a company.
- Chrome OS
- switching from Windows (notice a trend yet).
- need the least-expensive computer.
- do only average tasks handled mostly in a web browser.
- rate yourself below 5-out-of-10 as a “computer person”.
- keep your data in the cloud so local storage is not needed.
- have to stay because of the available compatible software.
- have to buy the OS and additional layers of protection on top of the included Windows Defender.
- have to know how to fix the data privacy leaks.
- have to spend time keeping patches/security fixes installed.
- have to have set up and maintain backups.
- have not considered the above other options.
How can I protect my Windows from viruses? Use the built-in Windows Defender option and run Windows Update regularly. Install and run one additional malware/virus program such as Malwarebytes, Bitdefender, Avast, Avira, or similar. Backup your hard drive’s data regularly in case you get a virus. Remember that there’s no bullet-proof protection.
Does Windows 10 track everything you do? Windows 10 tracks what you allow it to track. Unfortunately and by default, it sends a lot of data to its servers like settings, usage activity, & some personal data when you use a Microsoft account. When you opt-out or do not use an account, the OS sends a monitoring feed to watch for problems.
How do I make Windows secure and private? Remove any software you don’t use. Add one additional antivirus program alongside Windows Defender ensuring that real-time protection is on. Use a local, non-Microsoft account with limited privileges as your normal login. Disable permissions in the privacy control panel that make sense for your tasks. Don’t open sketchy emails & attachments. Backup your data daily.