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Restoring Windows Defender on Windows 8

March 25, 2013

I ran into a little difficulty getting Windows Defender up and running after the pre-installed Norton product on my work PC expired the other day. The work PC is running Windows 8, which comes with Windows Defender built-in, and I figured there was little reason to spend money on a Norton subscription when there was a perfectly serviceable antivirus app that came as part of the operating system.

(In case you’re wondering, the antivirus that comes with Windows 8 shares the name “Windows Defender” with an antispyware product that came with Windows Vista, but the Windows 8 version is basically a version of Microsoft Security Essentials. Microsoft should really find someone new to come up with their product names, because this is just confusing.)

Unfortunately, even after I uninstalled Norton, attempts to open Defender were met with an error message referring me to Action Center, which in turn told me to disable my third-party antivirus first. Hadn’t I already done that?

The confusion turned out to be my own fault, but before I get to that, here are the steps that solved the problem for me:

  1. Uninstall Norton through the usual Programs and Features Control Panel.
    • You should restart the computer when prompted and see if anything changes in Action Center before moving on to step 2.
  2. Download and run the Norton Removal Tool from the Norton Web site. Restart the computer when prompted.
  3. Open up Action Center, which should now give you the option to activate Windows Defender.

This wasn’t exactly a lengthy ordeal, but it was a bit of a nuisance. I might have spared myself some trouble had I been a bit more careful and followed some simple instructions.

First, I didn’t reboot when prompted by the uninstaller. I had other things open, so I decided to wait until later. So the next time I checked Action Center was after uninstalling Norton but before rebooting. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect I would been able to activate Defender without bothering with the Norton Removal Tool, had I rebooted immediately and then checked Action Center.

Unfortunately, my second mistake was to train myself to ignore the message that kept telling me to open Action Center. The message appeared every time I tried to access Windows Defender’s icon on the Start screen or in Control Panel, and I shrugged it off because I’d already checked Action Center at least once and there was no help for me there.

So I took to the Web to find an answer and came across the above-mentioned forum threads, downloaded and ran the Norton remover, and then restarted. Once it finally dawned on me that I still needed to check Action Center, the issue was resolved.

It’s tempting to make excuses about banner blindness and superfluous warnings, but the truth is I just made my life more difficult by not paying attention. Consider this my Lenten lesson in humility.

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  1. mark
    February 24, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Had same problem, when trying to get defender started would state(windows cannot verify digital signature of windows defender) after using the Norton removal tool and restarting windows defender came on when I turned it on.
    Thank you very much, Mark

  2. February 26, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    You’re welcome! Glad you got it working!

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