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Antivirus is a security program or suite of programs that protects computer and mobile device systems against malware, which could compromise our data, privacy, finances and the functioning of the devices themselves. These programs function like a shield, constantly examining files, applications, and other content to identify and neutralize any threat. They also work to thwart hacking, spamming, and other covert activities that may pose a risk to our digital assets.

Many antivirus programs operate by tapping into a database of known viruses and malware, which is constantly updated with new code signatures as the threats evolve (or as developers release polymorphic strains that essentially change their own code to avoid detection). When an antivirus program recognizes a file that matches one of these malicious signatures, it isolates the suspected threat from other files and programs to prevent harm, before thoroughly deleting it.

Antivirus programs can also monitor web traffic across networks to catch phishing attacks that could result in the infection of your devices or accounts with malware-ridden plug-ins, pop-up advertisements, and other potentially harmful content. Some products also employ sandbox analysis, in which a suspicious file or program is run in an isolated virtual environment to test for any negative impacts on the system before it is permitted full access to the system. This feature is particularly useful for identifying software that has been altered from its original state, such as illegal cracks used to bypass paid licensing requirements.