An antivirus program is a software utility designed to detect, prevent, protect and destroy threats like viruses, malware, worms ransomware, spyware, and other infections on individual computing devices, networks, and IT systems.
An antivirus program searches for known threats and monitors the behavior of all programs, flagging suspicious behavior.
It seeks to block or remove malware as quickly as possible. Antivirus may also prevent or remove unwanted spyware and adware in addition to other types of malicious programs.
Antivirus software, originally designed to detect and remove viruses from computers, can also protect against a wide variety of threats, including other types of malicious software.
such as keyloggers, browser hijackers, Trojan horses, worms, rootkits, spyware, adware, botnets, and ransomware.
Antivirus uses a number of methods to differentiate between that Word document you’re editing and a nasty piece of software that’s going to throw up annoying pop up adverts or steal your bank details.
Antivirus can even spot when otherwise legitimate applications have been hijacked by a virus.
Some antivirus software uses “live” protection to automatically block such viruses and malware from running at all, even stopping you visiting websites or opening emails that may have viruses attached to them.
There are many versions and types of anti-virus programs that are on the market.
However, the prime objective of any antivirus program is to protect computers and remove viruses once detected.
Most anti-virus programs include an auto-update feature that permits the program to download profiles of new viruses, enabling the system to check for new threats.
Antivirus programs are essential utilities for any computer but the choice of which one is very important.
One AV program might find a certain virus or worm while another cannot, or vice-versa.
Most antivirus programs include both automatic and manual scanning capabilities.
The automatic scan may check files that are downloaded from the Internet, discs that are inserted into the computer, and files that are created by software installers.
The automatic scan may also scan the entire hard drive on a regular basis.
The manual scan option allows you to scan individual files or your entire system whenever you feel it is necessary.
What Does Antivirus Software Do?
Antivirus software typically runs as a background process, scanning computers, servers or mobile devices to detect and restrict the spread of malware.
Many antivirus software programs include real-time threat detection and protection to guard against potential vulnerabilities as they happen, as well as system scans that monitor device and system files looking for possible risks.
Antivirus software usually performs these basic functions:
- Scanning directories or specific files for known malicious patterns indicating the presence of malicious software;
- Allowing users to schedule scans so they run automatically;
- Allowing users to initiate new scans at any time; and
- Removing any malicious software it detects. Some antivirus software programs do this automatically in the background, while others notify users of infections and ask them if they want to clean the files.
In order to scan systems comprehensively, antivirus software must generally be given privileged access to the entire system.
This makes antivirus software itself a common target for attackers, and researchers have discovered remote code execution and other serious vulnerabilities in antivirus software products in recent years.
What are the different types of antivirus protection?
Several types of antivirus programs have evolved over the years. When setting up your umbrella of protection, it’s important to understand the more common antivirus programs available.
Malware signature antivirus
Malware, or malicious software, install viruses and spyware on your computer or device without your knowledge.
Malware can steal your login information, use your computer to send spam, crash your computer system, and essentially give cybercriminals access to your devices and the information stored on them, and even the ability to monitor and control your online activity.
Malware signature antivirus software detects malware signatures, which are digital fingerprints of malicious software.
Antivirus protection can scan for specific malicious codes, identify specific viruses, and disable these programs.
While malware signature antivirus protection is key for detecting and eradicating known viruses, one limitation is its inability to address new viruses.
The antivirus product simply doesn’t contain these new virus signatures.
System monitoring antivirus
This is where system monitoring antivirus software comes into play. This antivirus protection can monitor software and computer systems for behavior that is suspect or atypical of the user.
For instance, alerts are created when a user connects to unfamiliar sites or attempts to access a large number of files, or when there’s a significant increase in data usage.
Machine learning antivirus
Another form of protection can be machine learning techniques, which monitor “normal” computer or network behaviors.
The machine learning antivirus software is able to limit activities by programs or computers if they look suspicious.
More specifically, machine learning detection implements algorithms to facilitate malware detection that is broader in scope.
This type of antivirus protection is beneficial because it works in tandem with other antivirus applications to provide multiple layers of protection.
How does antivirus work?
Antivirus software has changed a lot over the years. While the earliest iterations of it were bespoke programs designed to specifically target individual viruses.
Today there are millions upon millions of different pieces of malicious software out there. To combat that ever-evolving threat, antivirus software has changed and expanded in scope.
The best anti-malware solutions today use a combination of different tactics to help protect your devices.
Here are the three methods antivirus software most commonly used to work :
The most tried, tested, and reactionary of the methods used to combat viruses and other malware.
signature-based detection looks for the specific digital code of a virus and if it spots it, quarantines or deletes it.
Think of it like a virus’ fingerprint. The upside to it is that once a virus has been identified it can be added to a signature database that is stored locally or in the cloud and then accessed when scanning a system for threats.
The downside to it is that it’s not very useful for brand new threats. It requires at least one person or system to be attacked by the malicious software and identify it before everyone else can be protected against it.
With hundreds of thousands of new viruses being created every day, more is needed to keep modern systems safe.
That’s why, although Malwarebytes’ free tool provides mere signature scanning, its premium versions do much more.
Heuristic Based detection
Heuristic-based detection uses an algorithm to compare the signatures of known viruses against potential threats.
With heuristic-based detection, antivirus software can detect viruses that haven’t been discovered yet, as well as already existing viruses that have been disguised or modified and released as new viruses.
However, this method can also generate false-positive matches when antivirus software detects a program behaving similarly to a malicious program and incorrectly identifies it as a virus.
A more modern technique for tracking down known and unknown viruses and malware is behavioral detection.
Instead of looking at what a piece of software is, behavior monitoring looks at what software does.
Viruses and other malicious programs, however, tend to perform certain functions that aren’t typical of a user.
Malware might attempt to shut down or bypass anti-virus solutions on the system.
It might try to make it so that it runs every time you start up your system without asking or contact an external server to download other malicious software to your system.
The behavioral analysis looks for software attempting to perform these functions and even at the potential for applications to perform them, once again quarantining or deleting them as they are detected.
Although there is greater potential for false positives with behavioral detection than signatures.
It’s a crucial component in the antivirus puzzle. Ransomware attacks that encrypt files and demand payment to unlock them require a very fast response and signatures alone would be unlikely to be able to stop it.
Behavioral detection, however, like that offered by BitDefender, can spot encryption and halt it in its tracks, even rolling back any encrypting it has done in some cases.
Teaching computers how to do something has always been difficult and time-consuming, but machine learning allows computers to teach themselves in a much more efficient manner.
That’s exactly what machine learning in antivirus leverages in order to provide another important layer in modern anti-malware protections.
Antivirus software that uses machine learning can analyze the code of applications and decide based on its understanding of malicious and benign programs, whether that particular piece of software is dangerous or not.
It’s effectively an artificial intelligence solution and when used in conjunction with other security protocols has proved extremely effective at combating threats new and old.
Machine learning does require internet connectivity so that it can leverage the power of cloud-connected databases of information which it then draws from to detect malicious software.
However, it can evolve and adjust far quicker than the more human-curated methods of antivirus protections and that helps keep the most modern solutions up to date with the ever-evolving threat landscape.
What’s the difference between antivirus and anti-malware?
For the most part, “antivirus” and “anti-malware” mean the same thing. They both refer to software designed to detect, protect against, and remove malicious software.
Contrary to what the name might suggest, antivirus software protects against more than viruses–it just uses a slightly antiquated name to describe what it does.
Anti-malware software is designed to protect against viruses too. Anti-malware just uses a more modern name that encompasses all kinds of malicious software, including viruses.
That being said, anti-malware can stop a viral infection from happening and remove infected files.
However, anti-malware isn’t necessarily equipped to restore files that have been changed or replaced by a virus. Both antivirus and anti-malware fall under the broader term “cybersecurity.”
What features to look for in Antivirus
As previously mentioned, in the previous year’s antivirus definition was just a virus-scanning system in the device itself.
Nowadays, that’s far from enough. Doesn’t matter if you are a small or big business, an individual user or a family.
While looking for a protection system for your computer, make sure to have these components:
It would probably be a hard task to find a computer user that does not connect to the internet regularly.
With so many transactions taking place in the digital space, safe browsing is needed more than ever to protect our bank accounts and personal information.
This is the feature that defines the whole software and if it does not have it, it’s not an antivirus program at all.
Something you can find regularly in the news pages that concern cybersecurity is identity thefts.
Many hackers, fraudsters, seek to gain a financial advantage over the people who do not protect their personal information.
In most of the cases, they seek younger or elderly people, who don’t understand the antivirus definition and don’t know how to operate on the internet securely.
While most of the computers have a firewall already pre-built-in them, they cannot compare to the premium services of top antivirus software companies.
Usually, we keep a lot of unneeded files in our hard-drives, and when these files get outdated, they become vulnerable.
Having maintenance in security software is a healthy way to keep your device running smoothly.
How do I choose antivirus software?
There are plenty of free antivirus software programs that work well at detecting, preventing and removing malware, but they may be lacking some more advanced features.
When you pay for antivirus software, you’re paying for the latest updated information and better detection.
For example, the best antivirus software developers apply heuristics to find new viruses that could pass undetected through a free version.
The attackers who are writing code for those viruses are smart –of course, they’re going to pass their virus through the most common free versions of antivirus software before launching it at unwitting victims.
Just because you tell yourself that you simply won’t click on anything that looks suspicious, you could still become a victim of carefully-placed malware.
A combination of macros, worms, and trojans can get you to open a file that looks like it was sent from someone you know, and suddenly your computer is infected.
You may not even realize it right away. Except, you would if you had installed antivirus software.