Windows 8 not only has a brand-new look, but there are also some serious security enhancements throughout the operating system. The biggest change is that antivirus software, called Windows Defender, now comes pre-installed with Windows 8 — and it's completely free.  

Windows Defender

Windows Defender offers virus, spyware, and malware protection. If the name sounds familiar it is because a program called Windows Defender also shipped on Windows Vista and Windows 7. Previous versions of Windows Defender only offered spyware protection, however.

The updated Windows Defender uses the same anti-malware engine as Microsoft Security Essentials, which Microsoft has offered as a separate free download with previous versions of Windows. If your organization uses Security Essentials already, you'll feel at ease with Windows Defender as it has a very similar look and feel.  

With Windows 8, you won't need to download Microsoft Security Essentials. In fact, Security Essentials isn't even compatible with Windows 8. Microsoft will, however, continue to provide Security Essentials for Windows 7, Vista, and XP.

If your organization prefers to use different security software, Windows Defender will turn itself off. To find out if your security software works with Windows 8, see Microsoft's Compatibility Center.

SmartScreen Filter

Windows 8 also offers improved screening of programs downloaded from the Internet. The SmartScreen Filter detects and blocks unknown and potentially malicious programs that you download. The first time you run a program you've downloaded from the Internet, the SmartScreen Filter checks it against a list of known safe applications, and alerts you if it's unknown and therefore has potential to be malware.

SmartScreen Filter is built into the operating system (and not tied to a browser), so it will work with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or any other browser. If you're using a previous version of Windows, you can still benefit from the SmartScreen Filter's spyware protection by using Internet Explorer 9 as your default browser.

BitLocker

BitLocker Drive Encryption, available only on Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise versions, encrypts the hard drive on your computer to protect your data against theft, loss, or hackers.  While BitLocker was available on previous versions of Windows, there are some security enhancements in Windows 8.

Microsoft now offers both BitLocker To Go, which protects portable storage devices like USB flash drives and hard drives. You can also opt to only encrypt the used space of a hard drive. This is a huge timesaver now that many drives have up to 500GB of storage space or more. Microsoft TechNet has more about the new BitLocker enhancements with Windows 8.

For more information about Windows 8's new features, read TechSoup's Should You Upgrade to Windows 8: Questions to Consider.