Although details may vary between packages, antivirus software scans files or your computer’s memory for certain patterns that may indicate the presence of malicious software (i.e., malware). Antivirus software (sometimes more broadly referred to as anti-malware software) looks for patterns based on the signatures or definitions of known malware. Antivirus vendors find new and updated malware daily, so it is important that you have the latest updates installed on your computer.
Once you have installed an antivirus package, you should scan your entire computer periodically.
How Will The Software Respond When It Finds Malware?
Sometimes the software will produce a dialog box alerting you that it has found malware and ask whether you want it to “clean” the file (to remove the malware). In other cases, the software may attempt to remove the malware without asking you first.
When you select an antivirus package, familiarise yourself with its features so you know what to expect.
Which Antivirus Software Should You Use?
There are many vendors who produce antivirus software, and deciding which one to choose can be confusing. Antivirus software typically performs the same types of functions. Your decision may be driven by recommendations, particular features, availability, or price.
Regardless of which package you choose, installing any antivirus software will increase your level of protection.
How Do You Get The Current Malware Information?
This process may differ depending on what product you choose, so find out what your antivirus software requires. Many antivirus packages include an option to automatically receive updated malware definitions. Because new information is added frequently, it is a good idea to take advantage of this option. Resist believing alarmist emails claiming that the “worst virus in history” or the “most dangerous malware ever” has been detected and will destroy your computer’s hard drive. These emails are usually hoaxes. You can confirm malware information through your antivirus vendor or through resources offered by other antivirus vendors.
While installing antivirus software is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect your computer, it has its limitations. Because it relies on signatures, antivirus software can only detect malware that has known characteristics. It is important to keep these signatures up-to-date. You will still be susceptible to malware that circulates before the antivirus vendors add their signatures, so continue to take other safety precautions as well.
Source of Information
Information taken from the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) website “Security Tip – Understanding Anti-Virus Software”.