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Published on 03.05.08 by Brent Trahan

Configuring Options in Windows Defender

Learn how to customize Windows Defender’s automatic scanning, default actions, real-time protection, advanced, and administrator options.

Windows Defender’s options are optimized for most people’s needs right out of the box. This guide shows you how to tweak Windows Defender’s options to meet your needs.

Open Windows Defender’s Options section by clicking Tools at the top of Windows Defender and then click Options.


Automatic Scanning

Automatic Scan: Check off Automatically scan my computer if you want Windows Defender to scan your computer automatically on a schedule.

Frequency: Choose daily or a day of the week for weekly automatic scans.

Time of day: If your computer is not kept on all the time you might want to change the time of the automatic scanning to a time of the day your computer is usually turned on.

Type of scan: You can also choose between a quick or full scan when running an automatic scan. A quick scan only scans known areas of your hard drive where malware like to hang out. A full scan scans your entire hard drive for malware.

Check for updates: Choose if you want Windows Defender to check for definition updates before it scans your computer. This is a good idea. Note: You can manually update Windows Defender by clicking the arrow to the right of the Help Symbol at the top of Windows Defender and then select Check for updates.

What actions to take: Choose if you want Windows Defender to apply default actions to a flagged item or to only notify you about it. Default actions are explained below.

Default Actions

Understanding Windows Defender’s Alert Levels

Each item found to be possibly bad by Windows Defender is assigned an alert level. The list below explains alert levels.

  • Severe: Widespread or exceptionally malicious programs, similar to viruses or worms, which negatively affect your privacy and the security of your computer, and can damage your computer.
  • High: Programs that might collect your personal information and negatively affect your privacy or damage your computer, for example, by collecting information or changing settings, typically without your knowledge or consent.
  • Medium: Programs that might affect your privacy or make changes to your computer that could negatively impact your computing experience, for example, by collecting personal information or changing settings.
  • Low: Potentially unwanted software that might collect information about you or your computer or change how your computer works, but is operating in agreement with licensing terms displayed when you installed the software.
  • Not Yet Classified: Programs that are typically benign unless they are installed on your computer without your knowledge.

By default Windows Defender deals with each item individually based on its alert level and what it’s been programmed to do according to the definitions.

You can override the default actions to take for each alert level and set Windows Defender to do the Default Action, Ignore, or Remove. Be careful if you set an aggressive Remove action for every alert level because Windows Defender could remove legit software by accident.

Real-time Protection Options

Real-time Protection monitors what’s going on in real time. This type of protection is meant to prevent malware from doing harm to your computer.

Security Agents

Security agents are programs that watch what’s going on in real-time. There are multiple security agents watching different sections of your computer. Choose which security agents to run.

  • Auto Start: Monitors lists of programs that are allowed to automatically run when you start your computer. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can be set to run automatically when Windows starts. That way, it can run without your knowledge and collect information. It can also make your computer start or run slowly.
  • System Configuration (Settings): Monitors security-related settings in Windows. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can change hardware and software security settings, and then collect information that can be used to further undermine your computer’s security.
  • Internet Explorer Add-ons: Monitors programs that automatically run when you start Internet Explorer. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can masquerade as web browser add-ons and run without your knowledge.
  • Internet Explorer Configurations (Settings): Monitors browser security settings, which are your first line of defense against malicious content on the Internet. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can try to change these settings without your knowledge.
  • Internet Explorer Downloads: Monitors files and programs that are designed to work with Internet Explorer, such as ActiveX controls and software installation programs. These files can be downloaded, installed, or run by the browser itself. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can be included with these files and installed without your knowledge.
  • Services and Drivers: Monitors services and drivers as they interact with Windows and your programs. Because services and drivers perform essential computer functions (such as allowing devices to work with your computer), they have access to important software in the operating system. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can use services and drivers to gain access to your computer or to try to run undetected on your computer like normal operating system components.
  • Application Execution: Monitors when programs start and any operations they perform while running. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can use vulnerabilities in programs that you have installed to run malicious or unwanted software without your knowledge. For example, spyware can run itself in the background when you start a program that you frequently use. Windows Defender monitors your programs and alerts you if suspicious activity is detected.
  • Application Registration: Monitors tools and files in the operating system where programs can register to run at any time, not just when you start Windows or another program. Spyware and other potentially unwanted software can register a program to start without notice and run, for example, at a scheduled time each day. This allows the program to collect information about you or your computer or gain access to important software in the operating system without your knowledge.
  • Windows Add-ons: Monitors add-on programs (also known as software utilities) for Windows. Add-ons are designed to enhance your computing experience in areas such as security, browsing, productivity, and multimedia. However, add-ons can also install programs that will collect information about you or your online activities and expose sensitive, personal information, often to advertisers.

If you’re paranoid about what goes on with your computer you can make Windows Defender notify you about software that hasn’t been classified and of changes made to your computer by software classified as safe. Keep in mind that if you enable these features Windows Defender will nag the hell out of you with alerts.

You can also set if you only want to see the Windows Defender icon in the notification area next to the clock all the time or only when is scanning or detected an unwanted item on your computer.

Advanced Options

Choose if you want Windows Defender to scan archive files (zipped).

Set Windows Defender to use heuristics (an educated guess) when scanning files that have not been analyzed yet.

Choose if you want Windows Defender to create a restore point before it makes changes or not. I highly recommend this.

You can also tell Windows Defender to not scan certain files or folders. To tell Windows Defender to not scan a file or folder click Add, browse to the file or folder and then click OK.

Administrator Options

Uncheck Use Windows Defender to turn it off.

If you uncheck Allow everyone to use Windows Defender only user accounts with Administrative privileges will be able to use Windows Defender.

Still need help? Ask your computer question now.

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One Response to “Configuring Options in Windows Defender”

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  1. Albert says:

    This is a pretty good guide. I expected it to not live up to my expectations simply because it felt like it was something Microsoft squeezed in to make it a more “Vista” experience.

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