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Antivirus software protects devices against malware (such as viruses, worms, Trojan horses and spyware). Comprehensive virus protection programs typically include antivirus software, firewall software, website blocking tools and other features. Most offer subscription-based pricing models following a trial period.

Malware can do many things, from stealing personal information to hijacking computers to encrypt files and demand ransom payments. Some viruses are simply designed to cause harm, such as the infamous “ILOVEYOU” virus that infected PCs back in the early days of personal computing by overwriting files on their hard drives until they were destroyed; others take remote control of systems without their owners’ knowledge to create botnets used to spread spam, carry out scams or shut down websites.

The most basic antivirus protection compares files and programs against a database of known malware signatures, looking for exact matches. This approach is effective, but antivirus products must regularly update their malware definitions to combat new strains. More sophisticated solutions, such as heuristic detection and behavioral-based detection, look for tendencies or patterns in the way files or programs act to identify malware that signature analysis might miss.

Many antivirus programs also scan for malware threats when users plug in external devices, such as USB sticks or hard drives. These tools can help thwart ransomware threats by quickly isolating suspicious code and preventing it from performing operations that could affect other files or programs. Some premium antivirus tools even provide extra features, such as secure file deletion and browsing protection.