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Antivirus is software that scans, detects and removes malware (malicious software) such as worms, Trojan horses, spyware, ransomware, etc. Antivirus tools are a critical component of a comprehensive security suite, which protects against cyber threats that range from malware to data breaches and identity theft.

The first viruses were pranks designed by adolescents for bragging rights, but by the 1990s, adversaries began using computer viruses to steal data, slow down hardware and log keystrokes, inflicting damage on victims. These attacks were often followed by extortion demands that required paying a ransom to restore functionality.

Modern antivirus programs are proactive, using a variety of detection techniques to prevent and remove malicious software before it has a chance to spread. The most common method is signature-based detection, which gives each piece of malware a digital thumbprint that can be compared against known malware types. These programs typically update their databases several times a day to stay ahead of new infections.

Heuristic-based detection is an alternative method of detecting malware, which looks at how the program functions to determine whether it is suspicious. This approach can detect previously unnoticed viruses, but it also produces a higher number of security alerts that can overwhelm IT staff and cause alert fatigue.

Many viruses enter systems through unauthorized websites and spam advertisements, and antivirus programs limit web access to thwart the transfer of these harmful infections. Look for antivirus providers that are reputable and well-known, and check for regular updates to their malware database.