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Antivirus is software that protects computers, tablets and smartphones from malware. The best antivirus programs prevent, scan and remove viruses, as well as block access to dangerous websites, warn about potentially malicious apps and thwart ransomware attempts. They also offer additional features such as customizable firewalls, web browsing filters and file deletion protection.

Antivirus definitions are updated regularly, so the software can detect existing threats. More sophisticated modern antivirus programs also use technology to spot completely new malware attacks in the wild. They often combine signature detection with behavioral analysis techniques that can identify suspicious activity. For example, malware that makes unauthorized or abnormal requests or changes to files could signal that the code has malicious intent.

Malware is typically triggered when an unsuspecting user opens or executes an infected program, downloads a rogue app or clicks on a malicious advertisement. Once a virus has been activated, it may steal or corrupt data, or spread to other devices on a network or in emails. The most common types of malware include computer viruses, worms, spyware and Trojan horses.

Many consumers are not aware that their smart TVs, e-readers, smartwatches and other connected gadgets are potential targets for malware as well. However, it is rare for those devices to contain sensitive information that would make them a high-value target for cybercriminals. Nevertheless, any device that gets content or apps from the internet is vulnerable to infection, so antivirus should be installed.