What Is Antivirus?

Learn what antivirus software is and what it protects you from

Antivirus is a type of computer program that's designed to seek out and remove computer viruses that have infected your computer. They can also block your system from getting infected with new viruses.

There are antivirus programs available for every operating system, including Windows, Mac OS, Android, iPhone, and even Linux.

Laptop shielded from all sorts of bugs
Lifewire / Tim Liedtke

The word "antivirus" is a misnomer, considering that most of these applications can also clean any form of malware from your system, not only viruses.

The Threat of Malware

The presence of viruses and other malware on the internet is constant and always changing. Hackers are constantly developing new forms of software for any number of purposes.

  • Steal personal information from your computer files
  • Steal bank or credit count login information use keyboard logger software
  • Turn your computer into a "bot" to perform email spamming and Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks
  • Randomly pop up ad windows while you're using your computer
  • Pop up ransomware threats to get you to send money

Some of these threats are more serious than others, but in almost every case, a virus consumes CPU, memory, and other system resources that reduce your productivity and put your privacy at risk.

What Does Antivirus Software Do?

If you are using an iPhone or a Mac, antivirus software isn't critical. The operating systems sandbox applications, and if you only run approved software, the odds of infection are almost nonexistant.

However, if you're using a Windows computer or an Android device, using Antivirus software is critical.

When you install and run antivirus software, it'll protect you in many ways.

  • It regularly scans on a schedule that you set, scanning all of the directories and files on your system to spot known signatures that identify malware threats. Once identified, the antivirus software will isolate those files from your system and delete them.
  • You can run a manual scan any time you suspect that your system may be infected with malware of any kind.
  • Some antivirus companies also offer browser extensions that protect you where most virus infections take place, while you're browsing the internet. It'll warn you when you're visiting a dangerous website, and many extensions even alert you to all privacy issues, such as whether the site includes tracking cookies.
  • Most antivirus programs also monitor all of your network traffic to and from your computer. It'll recognize when new, suspicious software is communicating over an unauthorized port on your system and will alert you to the activity. On many corporate networks, the IT department needs to add special "exceptions" to allow business software to communicate between computers and servers on specific ports.

All of these features work together to ensure that your computer is safeguarded against malware that may be running on your system, even if you're unaware of it.

Do I Need Antivirus Software?

For the most part, even if you're using an Android or a Windows computer, modern systems are already fairly well protected. For example Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender, which includes a firewall and an antivirus component. However, Windows Defender isn't a perfect solution.

The following actions on your part can still put your computer at risk if you don't install antivirus software:

  • Clicking on email phishing links.
  • Downloading free software from unknown sources.
  • Using peer-to-peer file sharing software.
  • Clicking on malicious social media links.

There are two main functions of antivirus software, blocking viruses from infecting your computer from the internet, but also protecting your computer from your own mistakes.

All you need to do is choose from any of the top free antivirus apps available for Windows 10. If you're using an Android device, there are plenty of great free antivirus apps for Android as well.

These antivirus apps protect you from every source of malware. Everything from Trojan viruses and zero day exploits to computer worms and ransomware. Install one immediately and make sure to schedule a scan regularly.

  • What is the best antivirus software?

    Lifewire recommends Bitdefender's Antivirus Plus 2020 as the best antivirus software overall. If you're looking for a good free option, try Avast or Windows' built-in virus protection. If you need protection for multiple devices, try Symantec's Norton AntiVirus.

  • Who makes Avast antivirus software?

    Avast's antivirus software is developed by Avast, a cybersecurity company that also researches and develops machine learning and artificial intelligence. The main headquarters are in Prague, Czech Republic.

  • If your antivirus software doesn't detect and remove a virus, what should you try first?

    Make sure your antivirus software is updated, then perform a full scan on your system. A program like Malwarebytes can also help detect viruses on your computer.

  • How do you uninstall antivirus software?

    In Windows, open the Control Panel > go to Uninstall a Program and select the antivirus software > Uninstall. On a Mac, go to the Dock, select Finder > Applications. If the antivirus software is in a folder, check for an uninstaller and run it. If it's not in a folder and doesn't have an uninstaller, drag the icon to the trash can.

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