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Viruses, and the malware (malicious software) that uses them, can damage a computer or other device. Antivirus programs are designed to detect, isolate and eliminate these threats. They can also alert users to potential infections, and block unauthorized access attempts.

Generally, antivirus programs operate by checking computer programs and files against a database of known types of malware. Most will also employ heuristic analysis, which can catch new and even unknown viruses by looking for patterns or parts of a malware program that are common to different strains. If a file is detected, it will be quarantined or deleted from the system, preventing it from spreading to other devices or systems.

While some antivirus programs will scan hard drives, external devices and individual files, others will monitor the behavior of applications to determine if they are acting normally. Often, they will be alerted when an application is behaving suspiciously and will report this to the user via a notification or in the program’s log.

As malware attacks become increasingly sophisticated, many companies and government agencies are working to expand the protections that antivirus software provides. While antivirus remains the best defense against traditional malware attacks, users should also implement other security practices, such as secure passwords, two-factor authentication, data encryption, system wide backups, and smart privacy tools added to web browsers. These will help prevent phishing sites, insecure websites and fake or malicious apps from successfully penetrating a device or network.