Understanding the Basics of Antivirus Software

Working on laptop

We should all be using at least some antivirus software as a backup plan when we get tricked into clicking a malicious link, attachment or we downloaded accidentally something we were not supposed to. These situations do happen, even for the most paranoids of us, people make mistakes and can be tricked with targeted social engineering. This is why we have antivirus software, to save us from trouble when we have made a mistake, but how do they actually work?

Do I really need an antivirus

The short answer is yes. If you are not sure if you should get one, then just get one. It is better to be safe than sorry!

Not all of us are using an antivirus as some people think they won’t get infected. May the reason be that they believe they are too smart, educated, careful or whatever. I would still suggest getting an antivirus, just as a backup plan.

We all make mistakes, it is normal to make them. Also, accidents do happen, you can accidentally click to a link you didn’t mean to and it made your computer download some malicious content.

You can be educated and use common sense when browsing the net, reading email or using social media but there are cases when only that won’t be enough. Common sense and understanding of how malicious actors work are going to get you far, but we want to go all the way. That’s why you should use an antivirus.

What does antivirus software actually do

There is a lot of different antivirus software out there and all of them work in slightly different ways. Some of them are better at detecting different kinds of malware than others. The work the software can also depend if you are using the free or paid version of the software. The main functions, however, are pretty much the same, so I will be covering this on a general level.

Antivirus software scans your computer, it will look for the files, installed programs and your computer’s memory for specific patterns and signatures that indicate the presence of malicious software. When the antivirus finds malicious content, they usually create a quarantine folder and put the found content there.

Antivirus software can also block the downloaded malware from getting installed, stop ransomware from encrypting all your files, protect installed programs that have vulnerabilities and block you from accessing malicious websites. So, as you can see, antivirus software can also do a lot more than just scan for your computer and put the findings in quarantine.

How to use antivirus

I can’t show here how to use every possible antivirus software as there are so many of them. Instead, I will be explaining some of the settings that can be helpful while taking an antivirus into use.

  • Automatic scan - You can schedule a scan to start at a specific time or date
  • Manual scan - You can scan your system, file or folder manually whenever you want
  • Deep scan - This scans the whole computer, takes longer time to finish but detects more than quick scan
  • Quick scan - This scans the common areas of your computer, takes less time to finish than deep scan
  • Reports - You can read and analyze your old scans or block list for more details
  • Quarantine - A place where malicious content is placed, they can't escape or harm your computer from there

If you are having trouble using your antivirus, look for a manual or instructions from the vendor’s website.

How to keep the antivirus up-to-date

It is very important to keep the antivirus up-to-date because, well, first of all, the antivirus software can have security updates to itself. Keeping antivirus up-to-date usually refers to the database of malware samples, there are new kinds of malware detected, analyzed and added to the database every day.

If you are performing an antivirus scan with a database that is a couple of months old, then your antivirus does not know about the newest threats. Usually, antiviruses update the database themselves every day, or just before they are starting their scheduled scan. This way they always have the latest information and they are able to detect the newest malware.

A good thing to check from the settings of your antivirus is that the software is doing automatic updates every day, or every time before a scan starts.

Which antivirus should you use

As mentioned before, there are many antiviruses to choose from and it can be really hard to choose from them. It is a good idea to compare the products before selecting the one you want.

There are independent institutes and organizations that are performing tests for antivirus software, these are a very good source for data to do your comparison on. I would not trust too much on websites that are just trying to make you use their affiliate links, but you should always make your own decisions after careful research.

The two most well-known independent antivirus testers are AV-TEST Institute, their website with antivirus comparisons is www.av-test.org and AV-Comparatives, www.av-comparatives.org.

Antivirus software for different devices

These lists below are just my opinion on these antiviruses after testing them out, do your own research and base your decisions on that. You can use these lists as a base to limit your research on only these five I have listed below to reduce your research time. I still suggest that you find the best one for your use and devices by yourself.

Top 5 antiviruses for Windows 10

Here are some of my favorite antivirus software for Windows 10 operating system. Notice that there is a sixth entry in this table, I wanted to add Windows Defender to the list as it is already installed and it has been developing a lot. It is not a bad antivirus, but you might want some other software with it.

Top 5 antiviruses for Mac OS

Here is my favorite antivirus software for Mac OS.

Top 5 antiviruses for Android

And last but not least, some antiviruses for Android devices.

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About the author

PC Rookies is a one-man-project to offer basic information about computers. The writer is studying computer sciences and a computer hobbyist.

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