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What is Antivirus Software?

A person using a laptop displaying Antivirus Software

The first computer virus, known as the Creeper Program, was created as a security measure to test self-replicating computer code. The aptly-named Creeper accidentally infiltrated computer hard drives in 1971, and then it tried to remove itself — its intent wasn’t malicious. 

Sadly, since that time, intentional viruses have become increasingly sophisticated. They are a constant concern for those who spend time online. Phishing scams, malware, and ransomware are among the many types of computer viruses that threaten our online security. Thankfully, security protocols and firewalls have continued to evolve along with them. 

The dawn of the Internet saw popular antivirus software packages become a must have for anyone who uses a computer or spends time online. Modern antivirus software looks completely different than it did in its early days.

So what exactly is antivirus software, and how does it work?

The concept of antivirus software

Antivirus software explained

Antivirus software defines any program developed to identify, contain, and delete malware from attacking your computer. In the age of the Internet, antivirus software became a vital way to keep your computer safe. Sans antivirus protection, computers would be inundated with malicious links and harmful websites. 

Antivirus software is constantly updated to contain the multitude of new virus threats and will prompt computer users to update their protection. This software runs constantly and is on the alert for any malevolent or questionable data and prevents attacks in real time. 

Although most antivirus products come with a yearly subscription fee, there are some great free antivirus packages as well.

Antivirus software works in the following ways:

  • Alerts you to your computer’s security and health levels
  • Automatic scans of all computer data and running programs
  • Confirms whether your computer security is up-to-date, and alerts you to any steps you need to take to update
  • Identifies specific, well-known malware, uses generic detection to stop data and code patterns that look like malware, and utilizes heuristic detection to block unknown viruses from doing damage. 
  • Scans targeted files if you’re worried that your antivirus software has missed a corrupt file
A graphic of virus detected

The history of antivirus software    

Antivirus software became a necessity by the 1990s, when hackers and scurrilous programmers were able to embed damage routes of destruction into code. However, most historians point to 1987 as the year of antivirus software’s introduction. The 1980s even saw preventative, built-in antivirus packages on the AtariST.

In 1988, the brothers behind BrainNet created a virus known as “Brain” to protect their software from being illegally downloaded by hackers. Yet, this opened the door for bad tech actors: Malevolent computer viruses became increasingly prevalent, and the need for their heroic counterparts grew. 

Thus, Norton marketed the first antivirus software for consumers in 1991, and in the decades since, antivirus software has been a routinely built-in feature for most personal computers. 

Types of antivirus software 

Different types of antivirus software use varying methods to detect malware. Although some use a singular malware combatant, most of the widely popular antivirus packages use a combination of methods. Some software products are designed specifically for smartphones or tablets, while others can be used universally.

The types of antivirus software include:

  • Machine-learning: This is one of the newest advances in antivirus methodology. Machine-learning is a great way to monitor entire networks (for example, university or business networks). It uses algorithms and AI to detect malware.
  • Behavior-based: Behavior-based antivirus software helps to detect intricate, sophisticated types of malware. It audits the behavior of downloaded temporary and permanent files to identify and block new malware threats.
  • Signature-detection: This method of malware detection is the foundation for antivirus software. It uses a database to identify well-known types of malware and then prevents those “signatures” from infiltrating your computer’s operating system. 

Popular antivirus software packages 

With a plethora of antivirus software packages available to consumers, it’s not always easy to know where to turn. Every product is not created equally. It’s important to research all security protection apps on the market before you make a purchase.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular antivirus programs: 

G Data Antivirus:

Although G Data has been around for almost forty years, its name may not be familiar with everyday consumers and computer users. The G Data Antivirus software offers enhanced virus detection — it detects ransomware, offers BankGuard protection for all of your online payment methods, and filters out spam.

McAfee AntiVirus Plus:

McAfee offers universal protection for your overall technological safety. Thus, if you have both Macs and PCs or Androids and iPhones in your household, you can use your McAfee protection on all.

Via one subscription, you can download the McAfee AntiVirus Plus app onto all of your devices, including your smartphone. McAfee will block malicious websites and downloads, and alert you. The app will also ask you before it deletes files.

Norton AntiVirus Plus: 

To the average computer user, Norton is probably the most well-known name in antivirus software. Norton AntiVirus Plus offers both antivirus and firewall protection and gives you the option to backup your files in an online storage cloud.


TotalAV is award-winning, user-friendly, and inexpensive. This software offers protection from adware and spyware, along with other malware threats. You can download a free but limited version of TotalAV, which offers virus scans.

Do you still need antivirus software?

The past few years have seen a lot of technological advances and built-in antivirus software on computers, tablets, and smartphones. Do you still need to worry about what software you have, and should you purchase your own protection against computer viruses?

In short, yes. Whether you stick with the built-in protection on your device or you choose to purchase another program, you still need effective antivirus software. Every day there are hundreds of thousands of active malware threats.

Even if you use a VPN for all online activity and have a great spam blocker for your emails, you may become the victim of a malware attack.

Keep your devices healthy

Computers are an integral part of everyday personal and professional life. You should protect the health of your devices in the same ways you protect your own health. The good news is you can take proactive preventative measures to keep your sensitive data and operating system safe.

Antivirus software allows you to detect malware attacks in real-time, and delete problematic files and downloads. You don’t have to break the bank to protect your devices, but it’s important to take verified steps to keep malware from running your life. Check out the What is My IP Address blog for the latest cybersecurity trends and tips.

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