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Antivirus is software that scans your computer to identify and remove viruses and malware. It may also block harmful pop-up ads and other malicious content, protect you from dangerous websites, and thwart data thieves.

The most basic antivirus software relies on virus signatures (a set of detection patterns) to detect malicious programs. It compares files, applications and programs going in and out of your system to a database of known malware kinds to identify threats. Any similar or identical matches are quarantined, scanned and eliminated.

Viruses and malware are always evolving, so this type of detection isn’t foolproof. Adversaries can create new programs that evade detection by changing their code or encrypting parts of themselves so they don’t match the virus definitions in the antivirus program’s databases. This is why many experts believe the most effective defense against modern viruses and malware requires next-generation, endpoint detection and response (EDR) or extended detection and response (XDR) solutions that combine signature-based, heuristic and behavioral-based protections to find more advanced cyberthreats.

What is a Virus?

Viruses are self-replicating software programs that insert themselves into your computer systems without your knowledge to cause damage or steal information. They can also slow down your computers and eat up resources like memory and hard drive space. The first computer viruses were discovered in 1971, and they’ve been a persistent problem ever since. With more and more devices connected to the Internet, antivirus software is a must. But it’s only one component of your overall device security strategy, and you’ll also want to include other tools like password managers that help you create, store and manage strong passwords.