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Often included as part of a cybersecurity package or sold separately, antivirus software detects, quarantines and removes viruses and malware from computers and devices. Antivirus is designed to protect against cyber threats including ransomware, spyware, adware, Trojan horses, rootkits, botnets, worms and other types of malicious code.

Most antivirus programs start by scanning files and programs to see if they match up with the information contained in a list of known viruses. If a match is found, the file or program is deemed to be malware and will usually be quarantined or deleted. Antivirus also often uses heuristic detection methods that look for patterns in the way a file or program behaves to catch new or altered threats that have yet to be added to the database.

While antivirus can be a useful tool to have in your security arsenal, it should not be the only defense against hackers and malicious coders who are adept at evading traditional detection and prevention tools. For that reason, it’s important to pair your antivirus with other components of a holistic security solution like endpoint protection, firewall and encryption.

Antivirus programs can help to prevent infections by monitoring suspicious behavior, blocking access to harmful websites and preventing the transfer of malware from removable drives to a computer. Some programs also scan for incoming and outgoing email attachments to spot potential malicious messages. Additionally, some anti-virus software can block pop-up ads and spam websites to reduce the risk of infection from malware infiltrating a device.