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Antivirus is a program, or an umbrella of programs, that is designed to scan for, isolate, and eradicate computer viruses and other malware. It’s a critical piece of any cybersecurity strategy that helps to safeguard against data breaches, security vulnerabilities, cyberthreats, and other online risks.

Modern antivirus software can detect and protect against more than just viruses. They also help to block harmful pop-up advertisements, thwart hackers and data thieves, and sanitize and quarantine any devices that can be detached from a network.

Traditionally, antivirus programs use databases of signatures to identify malicious code. When a virus infects a system, its signature is added to the database and used to detect future infections. However, malware authors stay a step ahead of antivirus vendors by creating polymorphic and metamorphic programs that can encrypt parts of themselves or change their own code as they propagate. To combat these newer threats, antivirus solutions are moving to more advanced detection methods such as cloud-based detection and behavioral analysis.

It’s also worth noting that some antivirus programs are standalone and only provide malware protection, while others are part of broader online protection suites that can offer far-reaching features like password management, credit monitoring, identity theft coverage, and VPN services. These all-in-one software packages are often referred to as endpoint detection and response (EDR) or extended detection and response (XDR) solutions. These next-gen security tools combine traditional antivirus and endpoint protection with machine learning, sandboxing, behavioral detection, and other detection techniques to stop zero-day attacks and other emerging threats in their tracks.