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How Antivirus Software Protects Digital Devices from Infections

Just as a person’s body can be infected by an illness, so too can digital systems become infected by a computer virus. Malicious attacks from hackers have the ability to slow down computers, corrupt files, degrade performance, demand payments and steal resources. Antivirus protection is a must for businesses and individuals. Effective antivirus software needs to be current and sophisticated and work across multiple platforms and devices. While everyone knows antivirus protection is mandatory, many people struggle with finding the best software for their situation.

What Is Antivirus Software?

There is an almost unlimited amount of cyber attacks possible on a digital device. The ominous names, often describing the damage they could cause, include the following:

  • Spyware
  • Malware
  • Ransomware
  • Adware
  • Trojans
  • Worms

Antivirus software is programmed to detect, prevent and remove these detrimental introductions to a computer system. The first antivirus programs emerged as early as the 1980s. A scanning detection process looks for viruses in three ways: specific detection, which looks for known malware; generic detection, which looks for variants of known viruses; and heuristic detection, which scans for unknown viruses by looking for suspicious patterns and files.

Antivirus software has evolved over the past three decades to meet the challenges of increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals. One of the main changes is that operating systems now routinely include advanced antiviral measures. For both Apple and Microsoft, these include such features as gatekeeping, sandboxing and native virtualization that serve as security enhancements. Looked at like this, additional antivirus software is only one front in keeping digital devices safe and sound.

Why Is It Important?

For most businesses and most individuals, computer systems are as essential as air and water in today’s world. Any disruption in computer access can wreak havoc with deadlines, communications and customer satisfaction. Therefore, effective antivirus software is indispensable, as it can prevent problems before they happen, and it complements the security features of operating systems and websites.

Just as importantly, malware is entrenched and growing in the digital landscape, across all platforms and devices. Here are a few sobering numbers. Approximately 12 billion records were swiped by cybercriminals in 2018; that number is expected to grow to 33 million by 2023. Some 60 million Americans have been impacted by identity theft. Mobile devices continue to be a new target for criminals, as malware has been on the rise in this category.

How Can All Devices Be Protected?

The days when users only had one device are quickly fading into the past. Many people now use a home computer, a mobile phone, a laptop and new smart devices just coming on the market. Equally relevant is the fact that all of these devices are potentially susceptible to damage from viruses, though smartphones and iPhones have some built-in advantages in protection against viruses.

The verdict is still out on how vulnerable these devices are to external threats. This much is known: Threats do exist, Android phones and iPhones can be targeted, and the risk is likely growing. Still, at present, both devices have shown themselves to be resistant to most forms of malware.

Since the specifications for antivirus software may be different for each device, it’s important to look closely at the product claims. Antivirus software needs to work on the devices that are employed by a user. Though apps exist that are targeted to protect Android and iPhone users, most antivirus software programs have been designed for PCs.

What Should Users Look for in Antivirus Software?

There are many well-known brands of antivirus products on the market. Names such as Avast, Norton, Avira, McAfee and Bitdefender, to name a few, have been protecting digital devices for years. Most of these programs can do the following:

  • Remove malware, adware and spyware
  • Block phishing websites
  • Erect a firewall
  • Schedule scans
  • Offer phone support

Some features are not as commonly offered and may only be found through a few companies. For example, among the better-known brands, only McAfee offers a password manager as part of its package. Identity protection is only offered by Norton, Total AV and PC Protect.

Another thing to look for is price. Antivirus programs range from free to as much as $80 a year. Of the top-rated antivirus software of 2019, only Total AV is free.

What Measures Can a User Take to Avoid Viruses?

While an antivirus software program is essential in today’s dangerous digital world, smart computer practices still play a key role in computer health. Users should always keep these measures in mind when working on any device:

  1. Keep Software Current. Most software has protections in place to guard against suspicious activity. Updates provide fixes and patches to eliminate vulnerabilities.
  2. Don’t Indiscriminately Click on Links Within Emails. If a source for a link is unknown or dubious, it’s best to bypass it.
  3. Use Strong Passwords. This simple measure can foil hackers by blocking them from accessing personal information.
  4. Minimize Downloads. Users should only visit reputable sites and only download files when necessary to limit exposure to cybercriminals.
  5. Activate a Pop-up Blocker. These ubiquitous annoyances of the digital landscape can be embedded with damaging malware.

Other than using pen and paper, there is no perfect safeguard against computer viruses. Smart users, though, can limit exposure in many ways and reduce the chances of being the subject of a cyberattack. Antivirus software and smart computer practices reduce the threat of malware. Digital users should do some research to come up with the best protections; fortunately, many good options exist.

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