An In-Depth Guide to Antivirus Software

Let’s face it, the world is a scary place. We’re constantly being bombarded with the latest horrifying statistic or news story. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we all have to admit that we’re waiting for the next terrorist attack or flesh-eating bacteria threat to hit the front page.

But it’s not just what’s going on out in the world that we have to fear. It’s also what’s happening in our own homes. Every single day, we open ourselves up to an underworld full of scammers with malicious intent.

We’re talking about logging onto the Internet with a computer or mobile device. Doesn’t seem like a scary thing, right? We’ve all become so dependent on online content that surfing the Web has become as natural as breathing.

Of course, not everyone is on the Internet to shop or pay their bills. There are people that work around the clock to come up with ways to steal your personal information, create programs that hijack your computer, or simply want to ruin your day by killing your laptop.

Computer viruses are a real threat that can strike at any time. It’s not a matter of if you’ll get a computer virus but when it will happen. We’re here to help you stay safe online by going over the causes of a computer virus and how you can prevent becoming infected by one.

What is a Computer Virus?

Computer viruses are a type of malware (malicious software) that can simply annoy or utterly destroy. It all depends on the intent of the programmer and their end goal. Much like the flu, a computer virus can spread quickly, as well as easily replicate itself.

computer virus definition

This means computer viruses are capable of copying themselves across the files and networks or your computer. And it’s all done without your consent or even knowledge, in some cases. To put it simply, a computer virus is an incredibly contagious program with sinister intentions.

Computer viruses work by attaching themselves to an otherwise legitimate program or document. This allows a virus to execute the malicious code it’s carrying. It can then control the way a computer operates and be spread to other devices on a connected network, corrupting data and harming systems as it goes.

How Does a Computer Virus Attack?

After a computer virus has successfully attached itself to a document, file, or program, it sits and waits to execute its code on the infected device. That’s because a computer virus can’t work until the source of contamination has been run by you.

It’s scary to think there could be a virus lying in wait on your computer right now. But it’s true and you might not have a single clue there’s something wrong. That’s how computer viruses silently attack and infect your system. And once the virus has been let loose, it can quickly spread to other computers on your network.

While some computer viruses are meant as just a practical joke of sorts, many others can have profoundly damaging effects. A computer virus can steal or erase your private data, destroy your hard drive, corrupt your files, and even cause financial ruin by giving identity thieves access to your banking info.

How Do Computer Viruses Spread?

In today’s digital world, contracting a computer virus is easier than you might think. They can be spread through instant messages or email attachments. You can get a virus from a file download or a link posted on a social media platform. Even your mobile devices can be infected by malware.

Computer viruses have become so common that it’s hard to know how to prevent spreading them. Your first step should be to exercise caution and common sense when browsing the Internet. This is especially true when it comes to downloads and attachments.

You should never open or save any content that doesn’t come from a trusted source. Any link you click needs to lead you somewhere that doesn’t appear to have malicious intent. Trust your gut and stay away from anything that looks shady out there in cyberspace.

do i have a computer virus

How initial computer virus infections spread:

  • Via removable media (USBs, memory cards, or computer discs)
  • Through online downloads (app extensions, malicious links, or P2P file sharing)
  • By opening infected attachments (email or instant message docs or images)

Once a computer or mobile device has become infected with a virus, it can spread like wildfire through any other devices connected to a shared network, whether at home or work. This means you need to be extra cautious when it comes to connecting to Wi-Fi networks.

What Are the Signs of a Computer Virus?

If you’re worried that you may have contracted a computer virus by accident, there are some signs you should look out for to determine your risk. Just keep in mind that different viruses and malware types will present themselves in a variety of ways.

These are the most common signs of a computer virus:

  • Sudden pop-up messages or advertisements
  • Changes to your browser’s homepage settings
  • Mass emails being sent to your contact list
  • Frequent freezing or crashing of your computer
  • Unauthorized password or bookmark changes
  • Serious slow down in device performance speed
  • Unfamiliar programs that launch themselves at startup

If you notice any of these computer virus symptoms on your device, you should power it down immediately and avoid further use until you can diagnose and address the issue. We’ll go over how to do that later on in the article. So, don’t panic just yet!

What Are Common Types of Computer Viruses?

Although malware is a constantly changing digital threat, there are some common computer virus types that you should know about to stay safe online. The following virus types seem to pose the biggest issues for computer users from around the world.

Resident Virus: This type of virus lives in the RAM of your computer and can lead to the corruption of your entire system.

Multipartite Virus: Computer viruses of this type infect the boot sectors of devices and perform unsanctioned actions in total silence.

Direct Action Virus: These viruses attack specific file types and have the goal of replicating themselves across your entire operating system.

Overwrite Virus: As the name suggests, this type of computer virus takes control and overwrites files on your device, destroying data that was already there as it goes.

Web Script Virus: This virus is usually contracted by clicking on a link that then hijacks your online activity, driving you to a web page that contains downloads full of malicious coding.

Directory Virus: After initial infection, this type of virus changes the path of files in your computer’s directory. This can make it difficult to find and may even cause the destruction of files or even whole programs.

Polymorphic Virus: This computer virus has encryption coding that forces it to change each time it infects another operating system. That morphing ability can make these viruses very hard to detect and remove.

most common computer virus

Now that you know the most common types of computer viruses, you should also familiarize yourself with other forms of malware that can put your device and online security at risk. There are types of malware out there that can damage your computer or even steal your information.

Trojan Horses: This type of malware (malicious software) works by pretending to be a legitimate program long enough to get you to install it on your computer. Once it’s on your device, it becomes an open doorway for infection and allows other malware past the gate.

Spyware: This type of malware is designed to silently spy on you when you use your computer and collect your personal data. Spyware programmers have the goal of stealing your credit card information, usernames and passwords, or even your social security or banking information.

Computer Worms: This form of malware targets not just your computer but the entire network where it resides. Computer worms travel from device to device, causing damage to files and systems as they travel.

Adware: Although this type of malware is seen as more of a nuisance than a true danger, it can still open you up to security vulnerabilities. Spyware works by forcing advertisements onto your operating system and even hijacking your browser to display specific content, instead of what you were searching for online.

Ransomware: This form of malware works by infecting your computer and locking the entire system down from the inside out. Once your device has been taken hostage by the hacker, you will have to pay a ransom to get it unlocked and have the virus removed from your machine. Of course, many times the hacker disappears once the ransom has been paid, and you’re left with a very expensive paperweight, instead of a personal computer.

What is Antivirus Software?

If you’re starting to worry about computer viruses or other types of malware infecting your device, you’re far from alone. Many individuals and businesses have had to deal with the devastating effects of a computer virus. But luckily, there are some ways to help you protect your investment and privacy.

With the right antivirus program, you can easily ward off malware and viruses, and be able to browse online without fear of hackers or digital infections. Antivirus software was created to block malicious programs from attacking your devices and compromising your private data.

While the function of antivirus software is to prevent infection in the first place, the best antivirus programs also give you a way to quickly and safely quarantine and remove malware and viruses from your computer once they are discovered.

Top-rated antivirus software should perform these essential functions:

  • Scan files and directories for malware and viruses
  • Allow you to schedule or automate security scanning
  • Alert you of threats and help you remove infections
  • Give you a detailed “health report” for your computer
  • Remind you to keep your antivirus up-to-date and secure
  • Offer antivirus for your computer, tablet, and smartphone

Pro Tip: If you want to make sure you’re getting top-notch antivirus protection for your devices, you need to do your research. Check out antivirus providers that have experience in digital security and don’t forget to read real user reviews of the most popular antivirus programs.

how does antivirus work

How Does Antivirus Software Work?

Computer viruses are made to be undetectable. That’s what makes them so terrifyingly effective and how they can be spread so easily. Most people have no idea a virus is secretly working to destroy their device, which is why having a good antivirus program is so important.

How antivirus works is a simple enough process. Your antivirus software detects a threat, sends up red flags to let you know there’s a problem, and then walks you through how to fix your digital security issue. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the features of the best antivirus programs.

Scans for Viruses and Malware

The top antivirus software on the market uses two different types of scanning methods. Reactive scanning occurs when you install or run a new program. Active scanning is a complete check of your entire device and is a big part of essential computer maintenance.

Reactive virus scanning should be done in the background every time your antivirus software notices your computer is running a program it’s never seen before. You most likely won’t even notice it’s happening, since the new program will open normally if there aren’t any issues.

Active virus scanning should be done on a regular basis to make sure there haven’t been any new incoming cybersecurity threats. Your antivirus software should regularly scan not only web browsers and Internet-based activity, but it should also check all of your computer’s files and previously installed programs for any possible malicious content.

Automatic Threat Updates

New computer viruses and other types of malware are created every day. That’s because, in this digital age, hackers and data thieves are more prolific than ever. Cybercriminals are joining online communities to work together to create millions of new malicious programs each week.

The only way to keep one step ahead of hardworking hackers is with up-to-date antivirus software. Your computer’s virus and malware protection should be regularly updated to work against the newest cybersecurity threats.

When looking for the best antivirus for you, make sure the digital security software company you choose works hard at updating their threat database. After all, cybercriminals never take a break, so neither should your antivirus program.

Your best bet is to find an antivirus software that’s capable not only of maintaining a malware database but also performs a heuristic analysis. This type of antivirus scanning not only checks your computer for malicious software, but it also keeps an eye out for malware behaviors, which takes security scanning to a whole new level.

computer virus removal

Removal of Viruses and Malware

When looking for high-quality antivirus protection, you need to make sure that it can identify and remove both computer viruses and malware of all kinds. The sad truth is that not all antivirus software offers the removal of both, which means you aren’t getting the full coverage you need.

In fact, some antivirus companies see detection and removal as separate things, and they sell anti-malware and antivirus protection as individual products. That’s great for their bottom line, but not so great for your computer or bank account.

You’ll most likely see this separation of a detection tool and removal service in free antivirus programs. These offer free virus scanning and identification but require you to upgrade to a paid version of their antivirus software to actually be able to quarantine and remove viruses or malware from your device.

What Are the Different Types of Antivirus Software?

When you’re after full protection while browsing the Web, you need to remember that not all antivirus software is created equal, and that you need to be on the lookout for the best options for your computer or mobile device.

It’s crucial for you to know the difference between antivirus programs if you want to stay safe online. Just because your new laptop comes with a free antivirus trial or basic subscription, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for what the manufacturer thinks you should use.

We’re here to help you find the right cybersecurity solution for you, so you can feel confident about putting your trust into a piece of software that’s meant to serve as your protection against the destruction of your device or serious damage to your identity.

The following are the different types of available cybersecurity options:

Free Antivirus Protection

While there’s no shortage of free antivirus programs, you need to make sure that they’re going to provide you with the full-coverage protection that you need to keep your computer and personal information safe.

Most free anti-malware and antivirus programs do a solid job of detecting threats but fall short when it comes to being able to remove them from your device. If you’re just looking for a way to prevent computer viruses, they might be a good option. But if you’re worried that you could already have a virus or malware on your computer, these free options won’t fit the bill.

You’ll also have to deal with some pretty significant feature limitations in the free version of antivirus tools or you might be bombarded with advertisements advising you to upgrade to a paid subscription for your cybersecurity needs.

Some antivirus software companies give you a full security suite for free but it only lasts for a short time. These free trial periods usually expire within 7-30 days and will leave you unprotected once the offer has expired. You’ll have to upgrade to a paid version in order to keep your antivirus protection in place.

best free antivirus

Paid Antivirus Protection

If you’re looking for full boat protection against viruses and malware, you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to comprehensive paid options for antivirus software. There are many companies that have been in the cybersecurity industry for years and offer protection for a monthly or yearly subscription fee.

You’ll get all the coverage you need to prevent, detect, and remove all types of viruses and malware, plus added features like browser and malicious URL monitoring, anti-spam filters for your email account, file shredding, data backups, phishing protection, and much more.

Just be sure to do your research before paying for antivirus software. You’ll want to check the cybersecurity company’s website for details, look into comparing various antivirus options, and read in-depth antivirus software reviews before pulling the trigger and placing your order.

Mobile Antivirus Protection

Your tablet or smartphone uses totally different technology than your laptop or desktop computer. That means you’ll need a separate type of antivirus and anti-malware protection for your mobile devices, especially if you use your phone or tablet for accessing your banking or credit card account information.

Luckily, you can find mobile applications that offer extensive protection for Apple or Android devices, and many of them are made by the same companies that created the antivirus software you use on your computer. In fact, some antivirus companies offer a package deal to their customers, which allows you to cover your computer and mobile device for one fee.

You should look for these features to get the best mobile antivirus for iPhone or Android:

  • Real-time scanning of apps and games
  • Ability to lock down a compromised device
  • Strong encryption for your sensitive data
  • Ability to protect both files and images
  • Scans of connected networks for threats

Be sure to do your research on mobile antivirus protection too, and don’t forget that you’re looking for different security features. But any iPhone or Android antivirus program you choose to install on your device should also have stellar peer reviews and robust coverage.

Do I Really Need Antivirus for My Device?

It seems like every time antivirus software is brought up in conversation, there’s always someone that is quick to say they don’t use it because they’re “careful and use common sense” when on their computer or mobile device.

While that sounds good and you definitely should be diligent and smart when connected to the Internet, the scary truth is that anyone can be hit with a computer virus at any time, no matter how safe they think they’re being.

There’s also a dangerous myth being spread that only those that use Windows computers irresponsibly need to worry about having antivirus software. That’s simply not true, especially in this digital age, when cybercriminals are becoming more organized and creative with every passing week.

what kind of virus

There are also people out there that think your computer can only become infected by malware if you’re downloading suspicious programs or files, running shady software, visiting questionable websites, or using Java with your web browser. Doing those things can certainly increase your risk, but they’re far from the only way your device will get a virus.

You need to think of antivirus software as your last layer of protection against hackers and identity thieves. Your computer can be compromised by keyloggers, rootkits, Trojans, and all sorts of other nasty malware. If you don’t have an antivirus program, you’re opening yourself up to having your financial info stolen or your device held for ransom.

The bottom line here is you need protection, whether you’re using a Mac or a PC, or you just might end up in a situation that puts a hurting on your bank account. You’ll also take a hit in your confidence levels and any peace of mind you once enjoyed while surfing the Web.

How Do I Choose the Best Antivirus Software?

With all the antivirus options out there, it can be hard to choose the right one for your computer or mobile device. After all, you want to make sure you’re fully protected against digital threats, but you also want to get the best deal, right?

Chances are that you’ll get all the protection you need from one of the more basic paid antivirus programs, as long as you’re avoiding risky online activity like visiting untrusted sites, downloading unknown programs, sharing files, or opening every email attachment you get.

But if you’re looking to stream, game, or regularly download files while browsing the Web, you need to take your cybersecurity efforts up a notch or two with one of the more robust antivirus programs that are available on the market.

Here’s what to look for in comprehensive antivirus protection:

  • File shredding
  • Email protection
  • Intuitive firewall
  • Automatic updates
  • Multi-user support
  • Web browser protection
  • Multi-device compatibility
  • Active and reactive scans
  • Top-rated industry reputation
  • Behavior-based notifications
  • Virus detection and removal
  • Available parental controls
  • Backup and restore capability

Follow these tips for choosing the best antivirus software for your needs:

Know the specific software type: Don’t forget that antivirus software is not necessarily anti-malware software and vice versa. Check to make sure the security software you’re looking at helps with both detecting and eliminating any digital threats.

whats the best antivirus

Use antivirus free trials: If the program you’re interested in using offers a free trial, you should absolutely take it for a test drive. Trying an antivirus program out on your device is often the best way to make sure it has all of the features you’re looking for and it won’t cost you a cent.

Don’t focus on the firewall: Many times, computers come with a built-in firewall that will be more than enough to keep you protected. This is especially true of newer devices, so don’t worry if the antivirus software you choose doesn’t come with a firewall. Just make sure your computer already has one and it’s enabled before connecting to the Internet.

Read expert and peer reviews: While you shouldn’t allow antivirus program reviews to be your only decision making factor in choosing the best option for you, they should definitely be on your radar. Take a look at trusted review sources to help you weigh out the pros and cons of the available antivirus software and consider checking side-by-side antivirus provider comparisons.

Is Antivirus Software Enough to Keep Me Safe?

Even with a top-rated program, you still need to be smart about your online activity, and you should take some extra steps to keep yourself completely safe on the Internet. You can greatly reduce the odds of contracting a computer virus by following some simple safety tips.

These are the best general online security tips:

  • Don’t follow any link unless you’re 100% sure you know where it leads
  • Don’t open any email attachments from people you don’t know and trust
  • Never trust infection alerts from the Web (only those from your antivirus program)
  • Never enable macros in Microsoft Office unless told to do so by a dependable expert
  • Don’t download any files, attachments, images, or programs from unknown sources
  • Don’t plug in removable media (CDs, flash drives, etc.) unless you know what it contains
  • Never install any browser extensions unless they are peer-reviewed on a trusted source
  • Never run any programs or install any software that isn’t from a well-known website

If you follow these online safety rules and keep your device protected with top-notch antivirus and anti-malware protection, you’ll be able to browse the Web with confidence, and you can stop worrying about your computer becoming infected or having to suffer through identity theft.

The Bottom Line on Antivirus Software

Simply put, if you ever connect to the Internet, you need to protect your device and your identity from becoming compromised. Our society has become one that’s always online and the only way to stay safe is by making use of a good antivirus and anti-malware program.

Even if you’re careful to not put yourself at risk by visiting shady websites or downloading files from unknown sources, you could still become the victim of a hacker or identity thief. There are just too many people out there with more time than morals.

With a little bit of research, you can find the right antivirus protection for your needs, and be able to enjoy using the Internet without fear of malware or computer viruses. And you won’t have to worry about your most sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.

Just make sure that once you have the best antivirus program for you installed on all of your devices, you’re diligent about keeping it up-to-date and enabled, so it can do its job of keeping you safe while you use your computer, tablet, or smartphone.