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Do I Need More Than One Anti-malware Tool?

Belt and suspenders?

It's tempting to think more is better when it comes to security software. In reality, too many can cause trouble.


Question: With regards to firewalls, anti-virus programs and anti-spyware programs: can I have more than one of each of these programs installed in my computer? For example, I run ZoneAlarm; does that mean I should turn off Windows firewall?

The answer to this question used to be a very complex “yes”. It used to be that getting all the protection you need involved running multiple programs. And as you might expect, running multiple programs, if done incorrectly, can result in problems.

Today, things are much simpler.

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More than One Anti-malware Tool

In Windows 10 and Windows 11, the security software included with the operating system is typically all you need. Only if you suspect something’s been missed might it be time to bring in an additional tool.

Windows 10 & 11: you have all you need

If you’re running Windows 10 or Windows 11, you already have everything you need.

  • The Windows firewall is enabled by default.
  • Windows Security (previously known as Windows Defender) is enabled by default and handles all anti-malware needs.

You’re welcome to install an additional anti-malware tool if you feel the need. If you do, Window Security will turn itself off and stay out of the way, so you’ll still only be running a single anti-malware tool.

Multiple anti-malware tools can cause problems, which is why Defender steps aside. The same is true if you install even more security software. The potential for conflicts between the software increases, which in the worst case can prevent any of them from working properly.

You need only one, and for most people, that one is Windows Defender.

What you used to need

Prior to Windows 10, things were more complicated. In fact, the further back in history you go, the more complicated things got. Once upon a time, you needed three separate types of security tools:

  • Anti-virus tools scan for known patterns of data found within previously identified malicious software or watch for those patterns in data being downloaded to your computer.
  • Anti-spyware programs monitor for suspicious behaviors or changes on your system associated with software attempting to spy on you.
  • Firewalls block access to your computer over your network connection.

It was complex because some tools in one category attempted to cover (or partially cover) one or both of the others — often poorly — and could easily conflict with other security tools installed.

A case for more than one

There is one scenario in which an additional anti-malware tool might be called for.

If for some reason you suspect malware has made it past the anti-malware tool you run normally, you can download and run a different tool from a different vendor and run an additional scan.

If your primary anti-malware tool is Windows Security, remember that it steps aside if another anti-malware tool is installed. That means you’ll either need to switch to the new tool you’ve just downloaded and installed or uninstall it once you’re done, making sure to confirm that Windows Security is enabled once again (just check its settings).

Also note that when installing an additional tool alongside another that doesn’t step aside, it’s important that real-time scanning is enabled in only one of the tools. This specifically is where multiple anti-malware tools most commonly conflict.

Do this

The vast majority of Windows users need to do very little. Windows 10 and 11 come with security software installed and enabled by default.

Here’s something worth doing, though:  subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

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9 comments on “Do I Need More Than One Anti-malware Tool?”

  1. It seemed in the past that the Windows tool was considered inferior and we used different ones, yes, three of them.

    Then we bought the “white hat” tool that worked differently, and dropped the three previous ones. When “white hat” let in malware and the “help” from the company we bought the lifetime subscription from was to “download Malawarebytes” we were concerned.

    So now on our new computer we have the “white hat”, plus free versions of Malwarebytes, Spybot and AVG. They play nicely, probably because free versions just sit waiting to be woken up if there is an issue.

    So now I am wondering, should I just abandon “white hat” and rely on Windows Security? I don’t think I will ever want to abandon my super free three though!

  2. Leo, what about earlier versions of Windows being used now?

    For example, I have 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, and am using Microsoft Security Essentials. What is your recommendation in this case?

  3. when i was running win 7 on desk top the defender icon was in the control panel. but i couldn`t use it with win 7. now that i have win 11 i can use defender but the defender icon is not in the control. i`m also running MBAM security premium. where did the icon go in control panel?

    • It’s the shield icon in the notification area at the bottom right of your screen.
      AND it’s in the Settings app -> Privacy and Security -> Windows Security -> Open Windows Security
      AND you can click on the Start menu and just search for Windows Security.

      The key difference is that it’s all now called Windows Security.

  4. For some folks who may not know this. I run Malwarebytes Premium on my two laptops. But Windows Security (my icon is in the lower right taskbar) also lets you run periodic scans in addition to Malwarebytes. You can click on the Windows Security icon in the taskbar & then click on virus & threat protection in the subsequent window. When that window opens, scroll to the bottom & you should see “Windows Defender Antivirus Options.” Clicking on that or using the pull-down arrow lets you slide the button bar to the right to turn on periodic scanning by Windows Security. Malwarebytes still does its own scheduled scans in addition to this. I know when Windows Security has run a scan & the results in a notification screen I access on the far right of the task bar.

  5. Glen, When I installed Windows 11, I found that the Windows Security icon seemed to be ‘missing’ too. I looked in the ‘carat’ (^) popup found just to the left of the notification area, and low and behold, there it was. I moved it to the notification area (bottom-right) in Settings > Personalization > Taskbar (ALT-Click the taskbar and select ‘Taskbar settings) then navigate down to ‘other system tray icons’. In the list of icons, look for ‘Windows Security notification icon. Click the slider to its right to ‘turn it on’ so Windows moves it to the notification area.

    I hope this helps,

    Ernie (Oldster)


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