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Antivirus protects devices and data from malware by detecting, quarantining, and/or deleting viruses and other cyber threats. It scans files and applications for suspicious behaviors that signal malware presence and then takes action to remove or quarantine those threats.

It also helps block pop-ups and other spam from entering a system. This keeps the number of potential cyber threats at bay, allowing antivirus to be one of the primary tools in an organization’s arsenal for keeping its networks safe from malware.

Viruses and other malware are constantly evolving, which is why antivirus software should be part of a comprehensive cybersecurity solution that includes multiple layers of protection in order to safeguard against the multitude of ways cybercriminals attempt to penetrate systems. For example, ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts data so it cannot be accessed until the victim pays a ransom to the criminals in order to decrypt it. Antivirus programs can detect this malicious behavior and take steps to mitigate it before the criminals succeed.

Modern antivirus programs often include heuristic analysis methods, which are designed to identify and flag new and different types of malware variants that haven’t yet been included in an anti-virus program’s database. These detection methods can help to prevent a false positive, where a secure program or file is mistakenly flagged as malware and quarantined or deleted, which can slow down a computer or cause it to stop functioning altogether.

Some antivirus products use cloud analysis as well, which involves sending a suspicious file or application to the anti-virus vendor’s servers to be tested for malware, if necessary. This method can provide more rapid and consistent results than traditional signature-based detection, which typically requires the vendor to add a new entry in its database each time a new variant of a known malware appears.