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Antivirus (AV) programs scan files, directories, and entire systems for malicious code that is designed to steal, damage, or corrupt data. They then isolate the malicious code and remove it from devices. AV programs usually run in the background, scanning files and directories on a schedule that you set. They also allow you to initiate manual scans at any time.

The best antivirus software is smart enough to protect you from a range of new threats that might have never appeared before, even if they didn’t make it onto any lists of known malware. It does this by utilizing advanced methodologies that combine global scanning, human expert threat analysis, industry collaboration, cloud integration, and alerting services.

Viruses, spyware, and other types of malware are still very much a problem. They can infect your computer or mobile device, then spy on you, collect your personal information, or cause other damage. They can also cause your devices to slow down or crash, or prevent them from working altogether.

Modern AV solutions typically use heuristic detection, which analyzes the behavior of incoming files and programs. Heuristic detection looks for patterns and tendencies that might indicate the presence of malware. This is in addition to signature-based detection, which compares incoming files against a list of known malware codes. Frequent or continuous updates to the malware definitions in an antivirus program improve its ability to detect these new threats. AV programs also often block pop-up ads and spam websites, as well as protect against viruses that might transfer from removable devices like USB drives.