Antivirus Definition: How Does Antivirus Software Work?

For the majority of the time since we ever laid our hands on a computer that is connected to the internet, we started hearing that we need an antivirus system to protect it. Not everyone has a better understanding of the basics of internet safety measures and does not separate malicious links from safe ones, therefore, a silent guardian in the background of your computer system is more needed than ever.

It is crucial even for the people who follow the best practices of internet safety and do not click on links or suspicious attachments or do not visit sites that do not look trustworthy to have a safety provider. Even though you browse the internet safely, do not think that antivirus software sits there in the background doing nothing. Antivirus definition is a lot broader than just basic protection from download infected software.

There are numerous definitions of antiviruses on the internet and they all depend on their providers' point-of-view on cybersecurity. Every company has a different approach to protecting its customers, and as long as it works, we need to be thankful for their services. It does not matter if you connect to the cyberspace through PC, MAC, a tablet or through phone, the fraudsters create new ways to approach and hack into your digital system every day. So what are the antivirus software and hoes do it protect us?

What is Antivirus?

Devices that require antivirus protection

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Antivirus software, or the anti-malware software, is a security solution provided by the companies that ensure cybersecurity. It is a tool that runs on different digital devices and searches for applications or files that should not be on your devices or is potentially harming it. In many cases, it can infect the legitimate applications on your computer and start spamming malicious advertises or silently monitor your activity searching for sensitive information.

What some computer security software do is they offer live protection of the device that also perfectly describes the antivirus definition. It is one of the best features to describe the anti-malware software because it automatically blocks viruses and malware from running in your device at all. It stops the user from visiting websites that might potentially infect the computer or stops from opening emails that contain malware files attached to them. Another function of the antivirus system is the scanning feature that regularly runs a full or a quick scan on the device to check if it hasn’t missed anything or let something slip through the defensive systems.

When the protection software finds a malicious file in the operating system it will usually quarantine it, which means it will no longer be able to operate freely or delete it entirely to prevent harm. Now the next logical question would be - why would anyone quarantine the malicious file instead of deleting it immediately? The answer to the antivirus definition is pretty simple. By putting the file in the quarantine section you allow your antivirus software company to analyze the threat, to learn from it and make conclusions on what needs to be done to improve the defensive system so it would not happen again.

How Antivirus Works?

Parental control - a part of antivirus definition

When the first viruses and worms appeared, they were in the very basic from. On the other hand, the antivirus protection was very basic either. The very first antivirus software was no more than scanners that were looking for code patterns to match known threats. Although in the past it did not require a lot of effort to remove a malicious file from the computer, nowadays it requires a lot more work to do so.

With the rise of the new malware variants, to protect individual, business or governmental computer systems there is a huge need for advanced techniques. The advanced techniques mean that along to the good old scanning there are additions of predicting, finding, removing and guarding against the malware. Let’s take a look at how antivirus definition can be described from its activity.

  • The On-Access Scanning

As already mentioned slightly above, the antivirus system works as a silent guardian in the background of your device. Whenever you open a file, it quickly scans through it for the possible threats. This is called the on-access scanning, real-time protection, and background scanning. The name of this action entirely depends on the product that you use, but the main takeaway is still the same. When you open a file, it may look that it open immediately (depending on your device capabilities) but actually the antivirus software scans it first, quickly runs through the known malware threats. If it does not find any similarities to the known viruses, worms or other forms of infections, it lets the user through.

  • Heuristics

Another function that works alongside on-access scanning is heuristics. This function is a great addition to the antivirus definition and seeks for threats that may be unknown at that time. It tries to identify new or modified types of malware, that can seem harmless at first sight. It monitors the activities of files, and if it notices that some files are trying to implement codes into another system files, re-write it or copy it, heuristics immediately flags it as a malware and stops it from operating. Although heuristics seems like a great function to have on a computer, it cannot be set to the highest protection level, otherwise, it will flag every new file on the system as a threat.

  • Full System Scan

While having heuristics and on-access scanning, full system scans may seem like a function to overlook. But its purpose is a bit different than the previously mentioned ones. The way that full system scans add-up to the antivirus definition, is that it is used to check the whole computer system to see if there are no malicious files left from before installing the antivirus software. By using a full system scan once in a while you ensure that you are using the latest updates in the antivirus system to check on your computer, and the new updates may find some threats that were sitting in the system before and have not been found until this moment. It is a computer-healthy tip to scan the system fully once in a while, even if you think that your computer is running safely and smoothly, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • Virus Definitions

If you have ever wondered why is your antivirus software update so often, it is probably the cause of the companies latest found threats and updates on virus definitions. These definitions play a huge role in painting the whole view of an antivirus definition. It describes what is the threat to the antivirus system, giving it the main signatures that viruses and malware contain. When the software finds a signature of a virus in a file, it immediately stops it from running, putting in quarantine, or some cases, deleting it in no-time. Antivirus labs constantly try to analyze viruses, split them into pieces and find the best way to neutralize it.

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    False Positives

With the enormous amount of files that we keep in our digital devices these days, it is quite easy for the antivirus programs to overcommit and thinks that the files are infected when they are not. This process is known as a false positive. Needless to say, that while the cybersecurity field is constantly growing in danger, it is not possible to make an antivirus software that is 100% correct and safe. In many cases, antivirus systems fail to recognize important operational system files or third-party applications. On the other hand, with the constant growth of computer security software, it is better to believe that the file is infected than rather counting on your gut that it is not.

What Kind of Features is a Must-Have?

A hacker wearing an Anonymous mask

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, there are key features in antivirus software that are a must in the new age of cybersecurity.

While looking for a protection system for your computer, make sure to have these components:

  • Safe browsing. 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. The best way to browse safely is by using a VPN service provider
  • Malware detection. This is the feature that defines the whole software and if it does not have it, it’s not an antivirus program at all.
  • Identity protection. 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.
  • Firewall. 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.
  • Maintenance. 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.

Overview - Do You Need Antivirus?

Many modern devices have increased their protection rates by adding better firewalls, windows defenders, or other kinds of security measures. It might be enough in some cases. Being very careful while clicking links, opening files, and visiting websites, simple safety measures should do the work. On the other hand, throughout the years, antivirus definition has changed alongside the cyber-threats. There are ways to hack into the operating system and the Wi-Fi network, hijack the downloading files and make your computer vulnerable to every infection. Having an advanced protection system that works side-by-side with your device can do wonders no matter if you are Windows or a MAC user. Yes, MAC users rarely become the target over a Windows user, but thinking that you are safe without safety precautions is the first step to getting hacked.

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Recent User Reviews


Isn't firewall included with the newest windows? Or am I mixing it with Windows XP??

what's the point??

What's the point of getting an antivirus program if you're still exposing your data online?

Nice article

Finally found out more about protecting my PC than I knew before! I will definitely look for these features in an antivirus software now!


Doesn't matter if you're using antivirus software.. they're still watching us

antivirus software

is your only way to keep your pc protected... no other plugins or anything else will save your pc from catching viruses

Free versions

Free versions also do wonders for computers!

kaspersky works fine

for me. If you want a reliable antivirus program.


What are the main actions of an antivirus software?

Antivirus software works to protect your computer and it has to perform a number of actions: conduct on-access scanning, seek unknown threats, perform a full system scan, conduct malware removal, put files to quarantine, and identify viruses.

What features to look for in antivirus software?

The main features every reliable antivirus software should have are a safe browsing component, malware detection, identity protection, firewall, and maintenance so your computer doesn't store outdated files that can become vulnerable later on.

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