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Antivirus is a type of software program designed to protect computers and laptops (and increasingly tablets and smartphones) from malware. Malicious software, also called viruses or malware, can harm your devices and the data on them by stealing your information, destroying your files or using your device to attack other systems. Antivirus programs prevent malware and viruses by detecting and removing them.

Traditional antivirus protection uses a database of virus signatures to identify and block malicious programs. When a new piece of malware is discovered, it’s sent to the antivirus vendor for analysis and then added to the virus signature database. This makes it much easier for the AV program to detect and eliminate the virus in its current form.

More advanced malware, however, is staying one step ahead of traditional detection methods. Some examples of these include oligomorphic, polymorphic and metamorphic viruses, which encrypt or change parts of themselves to avoid being recognized by the antivirus program as malicious. These types of attacks require a more sophisticated approach, such as that found in next-generation endpoint detection and response (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR) solutions.

Many antivirus programs also use behavior-based detection to spot potentially dangerous activities, such as changing or deleting large numbers of files, monitoring keystrokes or displaying unwanted ads. The best antivirus programs today are smart, combining this behavior-based detection with AI and deep learning to spot new threats that haven’t been seen before by the antivirus vendor.