Table of Contents Hide
- What is an antivirus software?
- Types of antivirus programs
- Best antivirus software for your PC
- How antivirus software works
- Benefits of antivirus software
- Recommended Articles
Now more than ever, the threat of a cyberattack is very real. As our lives move more online, the chances of our personal information being compromised increase. That’s why it’s important to have the best antivirus software installed on your devices.
The internet is teeming with threats to your digital security, and seeing as we spend a lot of our lives online, it’s important to make sure you’re well-prepared to deal with these dangers. That’s where antivirus software enters the picture.
After all, it’s your best defense against cybercriminals, viruses, and malware. These threats aren’t new, but digital crooks are constantly finding new ways to leverage these tools, capture your personal information, and ultimately commit identity theft.
After spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, on a new PC, the last thing you need is to have it compromised. Unfortunately, that is a real possibility. Even the best PCs are susceptible to viruses and malware, no matter how much they cost. Regularly checking your computer’s health can save you from headaches in the future — whether from scammers or your computer just not working as it should.
Antivirus software gives your devices an added layer of protection and comes with some handy extra features, that’ll safeguard against a wide variety of scams. This still applies to you if you’re a Mac user. More and more threats, like ransomware, are engineered to target Mac devices.
What is an antivirus software?
Antivirus software (antivirus program) is a security program designed to prevent, detect, search and remove viruses and other types of malware from computers, networks and other devices. They often come as part of a security package, or you can purchase them as a standalone option.
An antivirus program can help mitigate a variety of cyber threats. These include keyloggers, browser hijackers, Trojan horses, worms, rootkits, spyware, adware, botnets, phishing attempts and ransomware attacks. Antivirus software is typically installed on a computer as a proactive approach to cybersecurity.
Due to the constantly evolving nature of cybercrimes and new versions of malware being released daily, including zero-day attacks, no antivirus program can offer detection and protection against all threat vectors.
Types of antivirus programs
Antivirus software comes in several forms, including standalone antivirus scanners, machine learning and cloud-based programs, malware signatures and internet security software suites that offer antivirus protection, along with firewalls, privacy controls and other security protections.
Popular providers of both free and commercial antivirus products include AVG Technologies, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, McAfee, Norton and Trend Micro.
Some antivirus software vendors offer basic versions of their products at no charge. These free versions generally offer basic antivirus and spyware protection, but more advanced features and protections are usually available only to paying customers.
While some OSes are targeted more frequently by virus developers, antivirus software is available for most OSes:
Windows antivirus software
Most antivirus software vendors offer several levels of Windows products at different price points, starting with free versions offering only basic protection. Users must perform scans and updates manually, and typically, free versions of antivirus software won’t protect against links to malicious websites or malicious code and attachments in emails. Premium versions of antivirus software often include suites of endpoint security tools that provide secure online storage, ad blockers and file encryption.
Since 2004, Microsoft has been offering free antivirus software as part of the Windows OS, generally under the name Windows Defender. However, the software was mostly limited to detecting spyware before 2006. Microsoft now offers Microsoft Defender Antivirus as part of its Microsoft 365 Defender portal, which is available for Windows 10, Windows 11, and some versions of Windows Server.
MacOS antivirus software
Although Apple macOS viruses exist, they’re less common than Windows viruses, so antivirus products for Mac-based devices are less standardized than those for Windows. There are several free and paid products available. They provide on-demand tools to protect against potential malware threats through full-system malware scans.
They also can sift through specific email threads, attachments and various web activities.
Android antivirus software
Android is the world’s most popular mobile OS and is on more mobile devices than any other OS. Since most mobile malware targets Android, experts recommend all Android device users install antivirus software on their devices.
Vendors offer a variety of basic free and paid premium versions of their Android antivirus software, including antitheft and remote-locating features. Some run automatic scans and actively try to stop malicious web pages and files from opening or downloading.
Play Protect is Google’s built-in malware protection for Android, which was first released with Android 8.0 Oreo. It now comes with every Android device that has Google Play services version 11 or newer installed on it.
Best antivirus software for your PC
If you practice safe computing — that is, you keep your software up to date, you use strong passwords (with the help of a password manager), you steer clear of unsolicited emails and you don’t click suspicious links that may be phishing attempts — you probably can avoid zero-day attacks and ransomware attacks.
With the free Microsoft Defender Antivirus software running on your Windows PC, you have a malware protection safety net if you do let your guard down. In fact, it is one of the best antivirus software options available.
This free antivirus program is built into Windows, and it’s turned on by default. The antivirus engine does its thing, and this antivirus solution will cover the basics of internet security. Microsoft pushes new updates frequently. Defender also lets you tune the level of protection you want, giving you control over blocking potentially unwanted apps and protecting folders and files from a ransomware attack.
Windows 10 and 11 will automatically disable its own Windows Defender antivirus when you install third-party antivirus. If you uninstall the third-party protection, Windows will turn on its own antivirus again.
Note: Microsoft changed the name of Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender and has expanded the service to other platforms.
Bitdefender consistently impresses with its ability to identify threats and stop them in their tracks. Malware files are pinpointed even before they begin downloading, and web trackers are likewise rooted out and blocked. Also, if you try to access a site with known threats, you’ll receive a warning that’s hard to ignore.
AV-Comparatives, a third-party test lab, reported positive results when it put Bitdefender to the test. The solution blocked 99.4% of threats (coming in second only to the likes of Norton and McAfee) and didn’t have a huge impact on the speed of computer processes.
Bitdefender gets straight to work with a full scan when you start using it, and combs through your system in its entirety to look for threats and intruders. This is par for the course, although Bitdefender can take almost a full hour to completely scan 50 GB executable files. It’s possible to configure scans, customize them, and set them to run on a schedule or on-demand.
You can run Quick Scans once a day, or weekly, and dig into individual files.
Malwarebytes protects your PC from viruses or malware attacks, scoring reasonably well in recent independent testing for guarding against malware threats. However, that’s not really what Malwarebytes is known for.
If you find yourself in trouble, the go-to disinfectant for many is Malwarebytes. You can get protection and disinfection for one device for $38 a year, regularly for $45. To cover five devices — any combination of Windows, MacOS, and Android — it’s $100 for a year of antivirus software.
To get the antivirus company’s free antivirus version, you can download a trial version. This “downgrades” to a no-fee on-demand cleaner with fewer features that detects and removes viruses and malware when you run an on-demand antivirus scan after 14 days.
Norton 360 With LifeLock Select
Norton’s LifeLock has consistently earned high marks from AV-Test, AV-Comparatives and SE Labs for virus and malware detection. This antivirus provides excellent security software for PCs, Macs, and mobile devices.
The company’s products include Antivirus Plus, Norton Secure VPN, Norton 360 for Gamers, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select, and more.
A 10-device subscription for Norton 360 with LifeLock Select is normally $180 per year, but you can get your first year for $80 off. In addition to malware and virus protection for your computer and mobile device, this security suite provides 100GB of backup to the cloud, safe-browsing tools, a secure VPN, a password manager, parental controls, and LifeLock identity theft protection and fraud alert.
While not all of those services are necessarily best in their respective class, getting them all in one package is a compelling option. Topping it off, Norton offers a free seven-day test drive of the suite, as well as a full refund “within 60 days of purchase for annual subscriptions and within 14 days of purchase for monthly subscriptions,” according to Norton’s site.
McAfee has moved on from its Antivirus Plus and Total Protection packages with McAfee+. The McAfee+ subscriptions still include all of the standard malware protection while adding important identity theft monitoring tools.
The basic subscription, McAfee+ Essential, lets you protect up to 5 devices, and the good news is that it works on just about every platform—Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Chromebook included. Although it’s a limited, first-level antivirus software, it still offers identity monitoring, a password manager, a firewall, a file shredder, and unlimited VPN access.
Two of the biggest independent test labs awarded McAfee top marks for online malware protection, which is incredibly encouraging. McAfee stands out from the crowd with a powerful identity theft prevention suite. The Online Account Cleanup tool can help you avoid being caught up in data leaks by pointing out which sites and services are holding onto your data. Then, it’ll tell you which accounts you should keep, which you should delete, and even reduce the number of spam emails you receive—and that’s in addition to alerting you if your information ends up on the dark web.
However, McAfee is a pretty resource-hungry solution that takes up a lot of system resources. It won’t slow you to a crawl, but other (cheaper) antivirus packages don’t have this problem.
Avast One is the newest offering from Avast, and comes packed with all of the malware protection, advanced features, and ease of use you’d expect from an industry veteran. You’ll also be able to use the solution on any Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS device.
Avast One’s scan speeds were pretty average, taking 32 minutes to complete a scan of 50 GB of executable files. These scans are hugely customizable, too, and give you granular control over where you want the solution to focus. Smart Scans take a few seconds to check for malware and dodgy browser add-ons, Targeted Scans look at specified folders and files, and Full Scans comb through your entire system.
Very few providers can keep up with Avast One when it comes to identifying and removing malware. So, you can rest assured that no threats will make it through to your device unseen. Avast One also shores up its security with a firewall that keeps tabs on your network traffic to thwart hackers and can block your access to malicious websites to prevent infections.
The solution rounds out its antivirus package with useful extras—and the sheer amount of these features is what makes Avast One worth checking out. All of its paid subscriptions come with the HideMyAss!-powered SecureLine VPN. However, if you’re on the Essential plan, you’ll have a limit of 5 GB per week and a single server location.
Despite these setbacks, this is still more than you need to catch up on your favorite shows.
How antivirus software works
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. They also perform system scans that monitor device and system files, looking for possible risks.
Antivirus software usually performs the following basic functions:
- Scans directories or specific files against a library of known malicious signatures to detect abnormal patterns indicating the presence of malicious software.
- Enables users to schedule scans so they run automatically.
- Lets users initiate new scans at any time.
- Removes any malicious software it detects either automatically in the background or notifies users of infections and prompts them to clean the files.
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.
Benefits of antivirus software
The purpose of antivirus software isn’t only to defend a system against security threats and vulnerabilities, but also to provide real-time protection through automated vulnerability scans.
Antivirus software provides the following benefits:
- Virus and malware protection. The main benefit of antivirus software is to protect against malicious viruses, such as malware and spyware. Most cyber threats today present themselves as multipronged threat vectors that can attack system data, steal confidential information, spy on system resources and degrade system performance simultaneously. Therefore, having reliable antivirus software running at all times is imperative.
- Protection against spam and pop-ups. One of the most common ways viruses infiltrate and infect a system is through pop-up advertisements and spam-based web pages. Antivirus software keeps the system secure by automatically blocking pop-ups and spam coming from malicious websites.
- Web protection. Antivirus software helps protect against scam websites threat actors use to gather credit card and bank information from unsuspecting users. By restricting access to harmful websites, a reliable antivirus program can prevent users from accessing unauthorized networks.
- Real-time protection. Antivirus software acts as a real-time shield that scans each inbound file and program. Depending on the settings of the antivirus program, once it detects an infected file or program, it either automatically deletes or moves it to a quarantine folder for further analysis. A quarantined file is prevented from interacting with the rest of the machine and its programs to mitigate damage.
Additional benefits include:
- Boot-scan command. Sophisticated viruses can often duplicate themselves while the system is active. However, an antivirus program can prevent a virus from self-replicating by invoking a boot-scan command. This command shuts down the operating system (OS), restarts the computer and scans the entire hard drive for viruses and malware. It detects the virus and prevents it from self-replicating by deactivating the OS.
- Dark web scanning. Data from most data breaches, such as ransomware attacks, is often leaked on the dark web. Many antivirus tools can help organizations discover if their sensitive data is leaked on the dark web. For example, if they find an associated email address or account number on the dark web, they can notify the user and update the password to a new and more complex one.
- Protection from external devices. Most people regularly plug in external devices, such as hard drives and USB adapters, to their computers. Antivirus software scans all attached devices and peripherals to thwart potential viruses from entering the system through external sources.
- Juice Jacking: What It Is & How To Prevent It
- Smishing and Phishing: What Is The Difference?
- Is Cybersecurity a Good Career?: Should You Go For It in 2024
- Cybersecurity Awareness Month: All You Need to Know
- Why Is Cybersecurity Important?: All You Should Know
- What is Tailgating in Cybersecurity & How to Prevent It