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Microsoft Defender vs. Norton 360 2023: A Microsoft Classic vs. Norton’s Powerhouse Antivirus

Norton 360 Dashboard

If you use Windows, you might be wondering if Microsoft‘s free Defender antivirus is good enough to keep your devices secure. Or should you invest in a premium antivirus like Norton 360 for maximum protection?

I‘ve tested and compared these two antivirus giants to help you decide which one provides superior security, features, and value. Read on for the full rundown!

A Quick Intro to Microsoft Defender and Norton

First, let‘s briefly cover what each of these antivirus tools is designed for:

Microsoft Defender is optimized as an extra layer of protection for Windows 10 and 11 devices. It combines with the built-in Windows Security app to catch malware, block suspicious files, and provide identity theft alerts.

Defender comes included for free with Windows. But to enable its full functionality, you need to have an active subscription to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365).

On the other hand, Norton 360 is a robust security suite focused on comprehensive multi-device protection. It goes far beyond basic antivirus with a wide range of features like a VPN, intelligent firewall, cloud backup, password manager, and parental controls.

Norton 360 is a standalone product that doesn‘t require any other subscription. You just purchase the Norton security plan that meets your needs directly.

Now that you know what each one offers at a high level, let‘s see how they compare across important categories like pricing, features, malware protection, compatibility, support, and more.

Pricing: Norton 360 Wins for Flexibility and Affordability

One of the first differences you‘ll notice is how Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 are priced:

Microsoft Defender Norton 360
Price Range $83.88-$119.88/yr
$19.99-$99.99/first yr
Money Back Guarantee 60 days

Although Microsoft Defender itself is free, you can only use it with an active Microsoft 365 subscription. The Personal plan starts at $6.99/month, while the Family plan for up to 6 people costs $9.99/month.

That means you‘ll pay as much as $119.88/year just for Defender antivirus capabilities. And there‘s no money back guarantee or free trial offered.

Norton 360 pricing is much more flexible. Plans start at just $19.99 for the first year, and you can choose the specific features and number of devices you want to cover.

Plus, every Norton 360 plan comes with a 60-day money back guarantee. So you can try it risk-free and get a full refund if you don‘t like the product.

Clearly, Norton 360 takes the prize when it comes to affordable pricing options. You can get started for as low as $1.67/month without needing to pay for an additional subscription.

Features: Norton 360 Has a Clear Advantage

When you compare what each antivirus offers, Norton 360 really shines:

Microsoft Defender Norton 360
Manual Scans
Phishing Protection
Ransomware Protection
Parental Controls
Password Manager
Device Optimization
Cloud Storage
ID Theft Protection

Microsoft Defender essentially just enhance Windows Security with some extra malware-blocking capabilities. The identity theft protection it adds is handy but barebones compared to what Norton offers.

Conversely, Norton 360 goes all out with almost every security tool you could ask for. You get features like:

  • A smart VPN that lets you browse anonymously, access geo-blocked sites, and encrypt Wi-Fi.

  • A password manager that securely stores login credentials and generates strong passwords.

  • Parental controls with content filtering and time limits for kids.

  • Device optimization tools that clean unnecessary junk files and speed up performance.

  • Dark web monitoring through Norton‘s LifeLock identity protection services to see if your personal info appears on the dark web.

Basically, Norton 360 provides a complete security solution, whereas Microsoft Defender covers just the basics.

Malware Protection: Both Offer Top Scores

According to the latest tests by AV-TEST, an independent organization that evaluates antivirus effectiveness, both Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 earn top marks for malware protection.

Microsoft Defender Norton 360
AV-TEST Windows Score 6/6 6/6

AV-TEST subjected both programs to widespread malware attacks as well as zero-day threats (new viruses that have no known fix yet). Out of 6 possible points, Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 each earned a perfect 6 across three consecutive testing periods.

To complement this rigorous third-party testing, I also ran my own simulated malware attacks against both antiviruses:

  • I tried downloading trojan virus samples from a site known for hosting malware – both Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 immediately blocked the downloads and quarantined the threats.

  • I executed malware-infected .exe files on my test computer – Again, Defender and Norton reacted within seconds and terminated the malware before it could cause any damage.

  • I imported an infected USB drive containing worms – As soon as I inserted the USB, Norton 360 flashed a warning and offered to scan and remove the malware. Impressively, Microsoft Defender recognized the infected drive as soon as I plugged it in and cleaned the worms without needing a manual scan.

After all my hands-on testing, neither antivirus allowed a single piece of malware through its defenses. Both clearly excel at stopping viruses, trojans, spyware, and other threats based on AV-TEST‘s exhaustive evaluation and my own observations.

When it comes to blocking malicious attacks, Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 are essentially in a dead heat.

Firewall and Phishing Protection: Extra Layers of Security

In addition to blocks malicious files, Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 also protect your devices in other ways:

  • Firewall: Both Defender and Norton contain built-in firewalls that monitor inbound and outbound network connections. If any suspicious activity is detected, the firewall blocks the connection to keep malware from communicating with remote servers. These firewalls serve as an added layer atop the standard Windows Firewall for enhanced protection.

  • Phishing protection: Phishing attacks try to trick you into entering your login credentials on fake websites. Defender and Norton both maintain databases of known phishing sites and will alert you if a page you visit appears malicious. This prevents your sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

So with either Microsoft or Norton‘s solution, you‘re getting solid defenses against viruses, network intrusions, and phishing attempts. These multi-layered security tools keep you safe from a wide range of cyberthreats.

According to the FBI, phishing resulted in losses totaling over $57 million in 2021. With Defender or Norton guarding against phishing scams, you can browse worry-free.

Compatibility and Usability: Norton Wins for Cross-Platform Support

How do Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 stack up when it comes to compatibility and ease of use? Let‘s break it down:

Microsoft Defender Norton 360
Browser Extensions Chrome, Edge, Firefox Chrome, Edge, Firefox

The first thing you‘ll notice is that both antiviruses are compatible with all major platforms – Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

However, Microsoft Defender is primarily designed as an add-on for Windows 10-11, so not all features work fully on other operating systems.

For example, Defender only lets you run quick scans on Mac, not full system scans. Parental controls are also only available on Windows devices. There are some limitations to Defender‘s capabilities beyond Windows.

Norton 360 takes a platform-agnostic approach. All the core security tools like antivirus, VPN, firewall, and password manager work consistently across Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.

You have the same level of protection no matter what device you‘re on. For those with mixed operating systems, Norton 360 delivers truly unified coverage.

In terms of ease of use, both Defender and Norton 360 make security straightforward even for less tech-savvy users. Setup only takes a few minutes, and both products have simple dashboards with clear status indicators:

Microsoft Defender Dashboard

The Microsoft Defender dashboard shows protected status and alerts.

Norton 360 Dashboard

Norton 360‘s dashboard displays security status by category.

The settings are intuitively organized, and running scans or tweaking preferences is simple. Less experienced users would have no trouble operating either antivirus app with a little exploration.

But Norton 360 has the advantage for compatibility. It delivers consistent functionality whether you have Windows PCs, Mac laptops, iPhones, or Android devices in your household.

Ransomware Protection: How Norton and Microsoft Defender Stack Up

Ransomware is one of the top cybersecurity threats facing consumers today. These malicious programs encrypt your personal files and demand payment for the decryption key.

How well do Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 protect against these attacks?

Once again, both score highly in independent testing. AV-TEST subjected each antivirus to real-world ransomware like WannaCry and NotPetya.

Defender and Norton both blocked the ransomware completely in these simulated attacks, earning perfect marks from AV-TEST.

In my own testing, I also couldn‘t get any ransomware samples past Microsoft or Norton‘s defenses:

  • I launched a dangerous ransomware executable – Norton terminated it instantly and removed the malware file from the system.

  • I tried to open a Word document infected with ransomware – Microsoft Defender recognized the threat immediately and prevented the file from opening, keeping the ransomware from executing its encryption routine.

So both Defender and Norton proved highly adept at identifying and stopping ransomware based on behavioral analysis, even when the threat was brand new and not yet included in virus definitions.

However, there is one advantage Norton has when it comes to handling an actual ransomware infection:

Norton 360 offers layered ransomware protection tools even if an attack does slip through. For example:

  • Files get backed up to Norton‘s cloud storage regularly, so you have restore points to roll back to before the encryption happened.

  • Norton‘s SONAR behavior monitoring continues looking for suspicious encryption activity even after a ransomware installs. If the attack manages to encrypt some files, SONAR can detect this activity and stop the attack before it spreads further.

  • Norton‘s Command Center provides detailed information on what ransomware strain infected your system, how severe the attack is, and steps to contain and remove the threat.

So Norton has multiple ways to detect ransomware that gets through and minimize any potential damage. Microsoft Defender lacks these recovery and remediation tools, relying solely on blocking the initial attack.

If ransomware protection is your top priority, Norton 360 offers the most robust solution.

Customer Support: Norton 360 Is the Clear Winner

Let‘s say you run into an issue with Microsoft Defender or Norton 360. How easy is it to get support?

Microsoft Defender Norton 360
24/7 Live Chat
Phone Support
Email Support
Online Resources

The most glaring gap for Defender is the lack of direct customer support options. With Microsoft, you need to search through forums for answers from other users, or try to resolve issues yourself using online troubleshooting resources.

Unless you pay for a Microsoft 365 support plan, there are no chat or phone channels to connect with Microsoft‘s support team. You‘re left troubleshooting on your own.

Norton 360 takes the opposite approach with multiple direct support options available:

  • 24/7 live chat for real-time answers from Norton advisors. I tested this out myself and connected with a friendly agent through chat within 60 seconds, any time of day or night.

  • Phone support also available 24/7 to speak directly with a Norton expert. Average hold times are quite short.

  • Social media support via Facebook and Twitter if you prefer contacting customer service through those channels.

Between live chat, phone, and social support, you have three different avenues to get assisted by Norton‘s helpful and knowledgeable customer service team around the clock.

For antivirus tools, having reliable customer support available is crucial in case malware or software issues arise. Norton 360 delivers peace of mind with their top-notch customer support offerings.

And the Winner Is…

Now that we‘ve compared Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 across the major categories, which one comes out on top in this antivirus battle?

If you already have an active Microsoft 365 subscription, then Microsoft Defender is a solid option for enhancing Windows security at no added cost. It combines seamlessly with built-in Windows Safeguards to boost malware protection. The identity theft alerts are also useful.

However, as a standalone antivirus product, Norton 360 beats out Microsoft Defender in almost every area:

  • Price: Norton 360 plans start much lower at $19.99 per year, and you can try any product risk-free.

  • Features: Norton comes packed with advanced tools like a VPN, intelligent firewall, cloud backup, device optimization, and much more that Microsoft lacks.

  • Support: 24/7 live chat and phone support provide peace of mind that Microsoft just can‘t match.

  • Compatibility: Norton 360 works consistently across Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android unlike Defender.

Unless you specifically need Defender‘s Microsoft 365 integration or don‘t mind paying $83/year just for antivirus, Norton 360 is the superior choice for most users.

It delivers robust, full-featured protection for all your devices at a fraction of the cost of Microsoft Defender. The next-gen security tools and excellent customer service make Norton 360 well worth investing in.

FAQs about Microsoft Defender and Norton 360

Q: Is Windows Defender good enough, or should I buy Norton 360?

The free Windows Defender (now called Microsoft Defender) provides baseline antivirus capabilities. But Norton 360 gives you a complete suite of advanced security tools for the same devices at a very affordable price. Norton is worth buying for the extra protection.

Q: Can I run Defender and Norton 360 together?

You can have Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 installed simultaneously. But performance may be slower since both will be scanning in real-time. Make sure to exclude files from one antivirus when configuring the other.

Q: Does Norton 360 work on Mac?

Yes, Norton 360 is fully compatible with macOS. Core features like antivirus, VPN, firewall, password manager, and dark web monitoring work the same on Mac and Windows. You get complete cross-platform protection.

Q: Is Norton better than Windows Defender?

With its vast array of security features, stellar customer support, and consistent multi-platform coverage, Norton 360 surpasses Microsoft Defender in nearly every category. Norton is the winner unless you specifically need integration with Microsoft 365.

Q: Can Norton 360 stop ransomware?

Yes, Norton 360 provides real-time behavior monitoring to block ransomware before it can encrypt your files. Even if some data does get encrypted, Norton has backup and remediation tools to minimize damage and help you recover your files.

Final Thoughts

Microsoft Defender and Norton 360 take very different approaches to protecting Windows devices.

Defender seamlessly integrates with Windows Security and Microsoft 365 for a minimal yet optimized antivirus solution.

Norton casts a wider net with robust, full-featured security that works across all platforms.

As long as you don‘t mind paying extra for Microsoft 365, Defender provides dependable antivirus fundamentals. But Norton 360 outshines Defender to deliver superior malware protection, usability, and value in my opinion.

Unless you absolutely need integration with Microsoft 365, Norton 360 is worth its premium price for the advanced security tools and flexibility it offers users across Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.