Last week Microsoft released the news that they have added a new feature to Windows Defender Antivirus. The new feature allows Windows Defender Antivirus to run within a sandbox.

Other antivirus providers have been offering the possibility to open files in a sandbox-environment before but what Windows Defender now offers is the feature that all virus scans are done inside a virtual sandbox. The biggest benefit of running the virus scans in a virtual sandbox is when the antivirus engine is scanning a malicious file. The malicious code that usually would be executed to exploit a vulnerability will now only affect the virtual sandbox and not the actual computer resources.

This new feature proves that Microsoft are really making an effort to increase the reputation of Defender. There is a debate whether this is the best way to go but it is good sign that Microsoft is really making an effort to develop Defender Antivirus with features like this.

Microsoft describes the feature in the following way on their blog:

Running Windows Defender Antivirus in a sandbox ensures that in the unlikely event of a compromise, malicious actions are limited to the isolated environment, protecting the rest of the system from harm. This is part of Microsoft’s continued investment to stay ahead of attackers through security innovations. Windows Defender Antivirus and the rest of the Windows Defender ATP stack now integrate with other security components of Microsoft 365 to form Microsoft Threat Protection. It’s more important than ever to elevate security across the board, so this new enhancement in Windows Defender Antivirus couldn’t come at a better time.

It sure sounds interesting, so why don’t we try it out?

Requirements:

  • Windows 10, version 1703 and above.

How to activate the sandbox feature:

  • Open an elevated ‘Command Prompt’
  • Type: ‘setx /M MP_FORCE_USE_SANDBOX 1’ and then press enter
  • Then restart your computer and that should be it. Just make sure that you actually restart it since it won’t be activated if you just do a regular shutdown/start.

How to inactivate the sandbox feature:

  • Open the ‘Control Panel’
  • Navigate to ‘System’ and click on ‘Advanced System Settings’
  • Click on ‘Environment Variables’, navigate to ‘System Variables’ and remove ‘MP_FORCE_USE_SANDBOX 1’.
  • Restart the computer.

The feature is not enabled by default yet so it might not be a good idea to use it in a production environment, but it might be a good time to give Windows Defender a new chance? Have you had time to try it out yet? What do you think about it?