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Antivirus is software designed to prevent, scan, detect and remove malware (malicious software) like viruses from a computer, smartphone, tablet or other network-connected device. It also offers extra safety features, such as a firewall, customizable security settings and identity theft protection.

Antivirus programs usually start by checking files for signatures, which are byte patterns indicative of certain types of malware. If a file matches a known signature, the antivirus program will quarantine or delete it.

Many antivirus packages can update their virus definitions automatically, which gives them a better chance of catching new viruses faster. Check with your product vendor to learn how often the updates occur and how this affects performance.

Today’s malware (an umbrella term for computer viruses and other dangerous cyber threats) can do far more than just damage your files or corrupt your operating system: It can steal your passwords, spy on you, hijack your computer and much more. That’s why you need comprehensive security that protects you from all the various kinds of malware out there, including Trojan horses, worms, spyware and more.

The best antivirus packages not only include anti-virus protection, but also extras like a firewall, parental controls and other useful tools. Some offer a sandbox analysis feature, which runs suspect files or programs in a virtual environment to see how they behave before permitting them to run on your real system. This helps thwart malware that can escape detection by changing its appearance or sending out commands too quickly to older signature- or heuristic-based scanners.