What To Look For In Antivirus Software

Features and Functions Your AV Software Should Have

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With up to 100 new malware threats being discovered per day, antivirus software is, for many home computer users, the primary method for protecting their computer from threats. There so are many product choices on the market, gone are the days of just getting your antivirus software from "The Big Two". In the old days, you were either a Norton/Symantec Antivirus or a McAfee Antivirus user. Anything else was scoffed at.

Nowadays, there are literally hundreds of antimalware choices available.

Many computers come with some sort of antivirus software, often a trial version, installed. Unfortunately, many users fail to properly configure the antivirus software or keep it up to date, and many may let the antivirus software expire without even realizing their computer is no longer protected against current malware threats.

This article provides a listing of some of the key features or functions that are commonly found in antivirus software. Becoming familiar with these terms and their uses will help you get the most out of your existing antivirus software program, or help you find for new antivirus software.

  • Real-time Scanner: The antivirus software real-time scanner monitors network data as it is coming into the computer to intercept any malware as it enters your system.


  • On-access Scanner: The on-access scanner does what its name implies- it scans files as they are opened or accessed to detect any malware.


  • On-Demand Scanner:The on-demand scanner provides the ability to perform a custom scan of a file, folder or drive initiated by the user.


  • Heuristic Scanner: Antivirus software typically has a heuristic scanner as well. Heuristic scanning uses what is known about existing malware and what it has learned from past experience to identify new threats even before the antivirus vendor creates an update to detect it.


  • Compressed File Scanner: Some malware may come inside a compressed file such as a ZIP file, or may even be embedded in a compressed file within a compressed file and so on. Most antivirus programs can scan within a compressed file. The better programs may be able to scan many levels deep to detect malware even if it is buried within multiple compressed files.


  • Scheduled Scans: Most antivirus software provides some method of creating a schedule to set when the software will automatically perform a scan. Some antivirus programs may restrict what sort of scans can be scheduled, while the more flexible programs allow you to run any type of pre-configured or custom scan at the scheduled time.


  • Script Blocking: Script languages are frequently used to execute malicious code from web sites. Many antivirus programs have the ability to monitor Java, ActiveX, Visual Basic and other script files and detect and block malicious activity.


  • POP3 Email Scanning: The ability of the antivirus software to monitor incoming and/or outgoing POP3 email traffic and the associated file attachments to detect and alert about virus or other malware threats.


  • Webmail Protection: The better antivirus programs can monitor web-based email traffic such as Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail to detect and block malware in file attachments.


  • Instant Messaging Protection: Many worms and other malware can now be spread through instant messaging programs such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) or Yahoo! Messenger. Some antivirus software will monitor instant messaging traffic to detect and block malicious threats.


  • Automatic Virus Updates: One of the biggest problems users have with antivirus software is simply keeping it up to date. Most antivirus software can be configured to automatically connect with the vendor site and download new updates on a regular basis.


  • Automatic Program Updates: The scan engine(s) and program itself may periodically be updated to add functionality to detect newer threats. Many antivirus software programs can be configured to automatically check for new updates and download and install them if they are available.


    Editor's Note: This article was updated on September 30th, 2016 by Andy O'Donnell