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A computer virus is a piece of malware code designed to infect a device with malicious intent. Whether it’s to loot your bank account, steal your identity or simply delete files, viruses and other cyberthreats can cause serious damage. Fortunately, cybersecurity tools like antivirus work toward finding, detecting and removing these threats as quickly as possible.

Antivirus programs protect your devices against the most common forms of malware. The software looks at data (web pages, files and other programs) traveling over the network to your computers or mobile devices. It also monitors the behavior of all programs, flagging any that seem suspicious. It then compares the detected code with its database of known viruses and malware, seeking to block or remove them as soon as they’re identified.

As hackers continue to create new viruses and malware variants, antivirus programs have had to adapt. In addition to signature analysis, many of the best antivirus solutions now include behavioral detection, machine learning and sandboxing. These next-gen approaches seek to spot even the most hidden and sophisticated attacks before they do significant harm.

The best antivirus programs also typically offer additional features beyond basic malware protection, including a password manager, advanced ransomware protection, web protection for safe online shopping and more. Some of these extras are often available for free, though the most comprehensive security solutions will typically require a premium subscription.