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Antivirus is computer software designed to prevent, detect and remove viruses and malware from computers and networks. It’s often included as part of a complete cybersecurity package, but can be purchased and installed individually as standalone protection. Antivirus programs typically mitigate a range of cyber threats including ransomware, spyware, adware, botnets, worms, keyloggers, rootkits and phishing attacks.

Traditional antivirus programs work by identifying known types of malware based on an extensive list that’s updated regularly (a good reason to set your software to update automatically). Newer programs supplement this with behavior-based detection, which monitors a file for suspicious activities like unauthorized changes, abnormal requests and remote connections.

While this technology helps identify many common cyber threats, it’s still not foolproof. In fact, even experts in cybersecurity don’t believe antivirus software catches every single virus or threat. That’s because hackers can modify the code of their malware to avoid detection. For example, they can add routines that have no functional purpose and thereby change the hash of the original file so it’s not recognized by antivirus programs.

For this reason, premium antivirus tools offer a variety of other features in addition to malware protection. These may include dark web scanning to discover whether your private data has been leaked on the internet, a password manager and identity theft coverage. Some antivirus programs also block pop-ups and spam to keep you safe from malicious advertisements that could lead to a download of a virus.