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Antivirus, or AV software, is computer programs that scan devices for malware and automatically clean any infections that are found. It protects against threats such as ransomware, spam, phishing and countless other malware types that can compromise your personal information or wreak havoc on your IT infrastructure by taking over systems or servers to exploit users.

Anti-virus software uses different methods to detect malicious code. One approach is the ‘dictionary’ method which checks a file against a known list of virus and malware signatures. When a signature matches, the program is flagged and either quarantined or deleted depending on your settings. More sophisticated AV packages use techniques such as heuristic analysis to catch new and evolving viruses that don’t have signatures yet.

AV software is available for all major operating systems including Windows, macOS, Android and iPhone and can also clean any form of malware from a system such as keyloggers, Trojan horses, spyware or adware. Many products also include next-generation, endpoint detection and response (EDR) and even extended detection and response (XDR) technologies to provide more comprehensive protection.

Most antivirus software can also prevent attacks from outside your network by blocking unwanted or suspicious communications from unauthorized sources such as email, instant messages and web activities. This includes attacks from phishing sites and scam apps that try to steal or manipulate user data, along with spam that floods inboxes and bogs down networks by using botnets to shut down services.