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Antivirus is a specialized program that safeguards your computers, mobile devices and other digital devices from malicious software (malware) like viruses, worms, ransomware, spyware and more. It acts as a gatekeeper for your data and prevents malware from entering your systems, allowing you to use your device without fear of hacking, identity theft or other cyberthreats that can cost you money, productivity and more.

To do this, antivirus programs typically use a combination of technologies including signature-based detection and heuristic-based detection. The former relies on virus signatures, which are unique strings of data characteristic of known viruses, to flag them and protect against them. The latter uses an algorithm to compare the behavior of a program or file against those of known malware to detect possible threats.

Because new infections are constantly being created by hackers, antivirus programs must update their infection database often. This is why many products also offer cloud analysis, which lets them send files to their vendors for further testing and verification on their servers.

In addition, some antivirus programs use sandbox analysis, which runs a file in a virtual environment to observe how it behaves before permitting it into the operating system. This allows companies to analyze the behavior of a particular piece of malware and make improvements for future defenses. Depending on your product and preferences, you may also want your antivirus program to notify you when it detects potential malware, ask for your permission to remove it or quarantine the file for further study.