What is Antivirus Software? - Examples & Overview

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  • 0:01 Definition of…
  • 1:21 How Does Antivirus…
  • 3:04 Examples of Antivirus Software
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

Antivirus software looks for computer viruses and other malware (a program with bad intent) trying to enter your computer and treats them if they are detected. This lesson provides an overview of how antivirus software works, discusses the kinds of things it is trying to protect against, and gives examples of antivirus products.

Definition of Antivirus Software

There's an old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true with computer viruses. Antivirus software looks for things like viruses and malware that have come in from the outside and don't belong on your computer, and deals with them when found. These days, antivirus software is often packaged with complimentary programs (network firewall, anti-malware, PC optimization) and sold as a suite of software.

A computer is infected by a virus much like a human is: though contact with the outside world. So if you bring something into your computer (a file or an email) that came from somewhere else, you could introduce a virus into your computer. Viruses can come into your computer via things you download from the Internet, email messages, software that you buy, or files that you copy to your computer from other sources, like a network drive, jump drive, etc.

What does a computer virus do to your computer? A virus can destroy your data - wipe it out or make it unusable. It can also affect the performance of your computer, slowing it down tremendously. A virus can embed itself and transmit your confidential data back to someone else, or let someone take control of your computer remotely and use it for their own purposes.

How Does Antivirus Software Work?

Antivirus software uses several methods to detect and treat viruses. Did you ever notice that if you have antivirus software on your PC, it updates itself fairly often? That's because one way it detects viruses is by comparing incoming items to a list of potential threats. That list is constantly changing and growing, thus requiring regular updates. Speaking of updates, for antivirus software to be most effective, you have to keep your device's operating system (i.e. Windows) up to date as well, so viruses can not exploit known weaknesses (bugs) there either.

Another method of detecting a virus is to look for a program that is behaving suspiciously. Just like in the airport when you hear the T.S.A. announcements about reporting suspicious behavior, the antivirus software looks for programs doing things they're not supposed to be doing. An alert is usually raised to the user to verify or block the program's activity. If a virus is so new that it is not on the known threat list, this is another way of catching it.

Once a virus or other threat is identified, the antivirus program will sometimes alert the user, asking them if the identified item is known to them or should be allowed to continue its activities. Often the antivirus software will stop the program from running - quarantine it - or delete it entirely.

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