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Antivirus is software designed to search for, detect and remove programs (called malware) that can steal hardware resources or sensitive personal information. These malicious programs, which are also known as ransomware, worms and Trojans, can be sent to your computer through dubious emails, attachments, files and websites. Without antivirus protection, these viruses can cause significant damage to your systems and devices.

When selecting antivirus software, consider a number of factors. Among other things, you want to make sure the product has a high detection rate in controlled tests. You also want to know whether it is compatible with your system, how much it can drain your system’s resources and whether it provides extra safety features such as a virtual sandbox for running files, ransomware mitigation and more.

Most traditional antivirus programs detect malicious programs by matching them to a database of signatures. These signatures are created by cybersecurity vendors to identify malware strains and provide digital fingerprints. However, malware authors stay a step ahead by creating polymorphic and metamorphic programs that encrypt parts of themselves or otherwise change their code as they move through the wild.

Modern AV programs use heuristic analysis methods to catch these new and altered malware variants. Heuristic analysis splits a program or file into various sections to scan for suspicious activities such as unauthorized changes to the system, modifying or deleting large numbers of files and more. These heuristics can be used in conjunction with signature- and sandbox-based detection to create multilayered security that protects against a wide range of threats.