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Antivirus protects against malicious software (malware) that can steal data, corrupt files, monitor devices, or slow system performance. It scans directories or specific files against a database of known malware signatures, recognizing abnormal patterns that indicate the presence of malicious code. Many antivirus programs offer the choice to clean, quarantine or delete infected files.

Most virus protection options use heuristic analysis in addition to signature-based detection methods. This allows them to recognize new and evolving threats that may not yet be included in the vendor’s malware databases. It also helps reduce the occurrence of false positives, where legitimate files or programs are mistakenly flagged as malware.

In addition to malware scanning, many antivirus programs also feature sandboxing and other methods that allow suspicious programs or files to run in an isolated environment to test for their behavior and interactions with the rest of the computer. This helps prevent them from gaining a foothold on the device and spreading to other areas of the network or to other systems.

While some antivirus programs still center on detecting and mitigating viruses, others include additional features that are a reflection of the increasing dangers most users face. For example, some antivirus tools now monitor the dark web to see if stolen customer data has been posted, and can alert users when their personal information has been compromised in data breaches. Others can thwart hackers by blocking pop-up advertisements and spam websites, and by scanning removable devices to prevent the transfer of malware.