Antivirus software is a type of utility used for scanning and removing viruses from your computer. While many types of antivirus (or "anti-virus") programs exist, their primary purpose is to protect computers from viruses and remove any viruses that are found.
Most antivirus programs include both automatic and manual scanning capabilities. The automatic scan may check files that are downloaded from the Internet, discs that are inserted into the computer, and files that are created by software installers. The automatic scan may also scan the entire hard drive on a regular basis. The manual scan option allows you to scan individual files or your entire system whenever you feel it is necessary.
Since new viruses are constantly being created by computer hackers, antivirus programs must keep an updated database of virus types. This database includes a list of "virus definitions" that the antivirus software references when scanning files. Since new viruses are frequently distributed, it is important to keep your software's virus database up-to-date. Fortunately, most antivirus programs automatically update the virus database on a regular basis.
While antivirus software is primarily designed to protect computers against viruses, many antivirus programs now protect against other types of malware, such as spyware, adware, and rootkits as well. Antivirus software may also be bundled with firewall features, which helps prevent unauthorized access to your computer. Utilities that include both antivirus and firewall capabilities are typically branded "Internet Security" software or something similar.
While antivirus programs are available for Windows, Macintosh, and Unix platforms, most antivirus software is sold for Windows systems. This is because most viruses are targeted towards Windows computers and therefore virus protection is especially important for Windows users. If you are a Windows user, it is smart to have at least one antivirus program installed on your computer. Examples of common antivirus programs include Norton Antivirus, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and ZoneAlarm Antivirus.
Updated: November 23, 2010