What is antivirus software and how it works

What is antivirus software and how it works

We have all heard about antivirus at least once in our life, not to mention that we will certainly have used at least one, especially if we have had a computer available for some time.

And also the concept antivirus itself, by now, is quite widespread: it is a software designed to protect devices from so-called computer viruses, i.e. those programs that, if run, tend to infect files by duplicating themselves, most of the time without the user's knowledge . So we're talking about a program that integrates into executable code, including the operating system, so that it spreads when the infected code is executed. The effects are manifold: from a mere slowdown of the system, to the blocking of certain functions, up to making the infected device completely unusable. There are viruses that can also damage the target hardware, for example by changing the CPU clock rates or blocking the cooling system to overheat it.

So, the antivirus acts to prevent these situations, by detecting and blocking viruses that could infiltrate the system through various methods (from an infected attachment to an executable downloaded from the network), but how does an antivirus work and what are the tools and functions available? Let's find out together.

Read also: The best VPNs of 2022

How does antivirus software work?

The various free and paid antivirus available today employ different methods for defending the PC or other devices, as well as for checking the files on the system. | ); } First of all, one of the tools that all software on the market has in common is the manual scan of all files, looking for suspicious elements. This tends to be a lengthy operation, at least initially, since the software will have to analyze each file available on the system one by one. However, most antiviruses implement intelligent routines that, from the second scan onwards, allow the software to analyze only files that are new or changed since the last analysis, significantly reducing the time required to complete the scan. Alternatively, several apps also allow you to perform a quick scan, which is the analysis of the files that are usually the most susceptible to infection (eg some executables crucial to the operating system).

The market offers different types of antivirus, but they all work in a more or less similar way

In any case, antiviruses use the so-called definitions for both of these components, which we could compare to an archive of identikits of existing viruses and malware in general. This definition library is kept updated as often as possible by the companies that produce antivirus, usually on a daily or even hourly basis, in the cases of the most advanced software.

On the other hand, the world of malware (and of viruses - we will return to this definition just below) is in constant transformation, with new threats introduced relentlessly: for this reason, the best antivirus also employ heuristic technology. Basically, the software monitors the behavior of files or processes on the machine in search of "suspicious" signals, that is, to identify possible threats that have not yet been included in the program definitions.

It goes without saying, therefore, that real-time protection is the key component of any truly effective antivirus.

In any case, antiviruses usually also offer the option to perform a manual scan, which is worth running from time to time, above all to make sure that the antivirus does not miss any signal in the interval between a definition update and the next. Of course, it is unlikely to get infected because the antivirus had not yet updated the definitions, however, caution is never too much, especially if your computer holds your work or other vital components of your activities.

Malware and Viruses: What's the Difference?

Before we go any further, it is worth clarifying immediately an aspect that is all too often underestimated. In fact, sometimes, we tend to confuse the terms malware and virus as if they were synonymous. In reality, a distinction must be made.

Malware is the set of documents, e-mail messages and programs that can damage a computer system or steal information of various kinds without the user's knowledge.

Where, therefore, the term malware is a container term, virus is a specific category of malware, composed precisely of pieces of code that spread by duplicating themselves within other programs or specific sections of a hard drive, infecting files that then they can compromise other systems when started.

Among other categories of malware, we mention the most well-known, such as Trojans, worms, spyware and adware, as well as the feared ransomware. The latter threat is particularly worrying, given its increasingly widespread spread. It is no coincidence, in fact, that we have compiled a list of the best antivirus to protect against ransomware. In addition, we have also put together some useful tips on how to remove malware from your system.

Ransomware is one of the most formidable threats, claiming many lives every year

What happens when an antivirus detects a threat?

When an antivirus detects a threat on the system, be it a virus or other types of malware, the software is usually expected to quarantine the malicious item , that is, that it isolates it from the rest of the system to neutralize its effects.

As we have already seen in various reviews, sometimes processes such as those of ransomware are not immediately blocked, consequently malware can cause some damage, for example by encrypting some files, before being neutralized. Therefore, in addition to the quarantine, the antivirus applications should also include a system for restoring the affected files.

The point is that an antivirus does not always act in a timely manner, even if these are not too common occurrences, for fortune. In any case, an antivirus must act as soon as possible, at least by minimizing the harmful consequences of the attack.

For this reason, it is also necessary to evaluate other levels of protection implemented by antivirus, such as, indeed, protection from ransomware, or the filtering of malicious URLs, i.e. sites known to be able to infect a computer through the hidden installation of malware or to carry out phishing attempts (i.e. the theft of sensitive and confidential data through counterfeit sites or forms, for example a site that pretends to be the victim's bank and that requires the insertion of credit card data in order to steal them).

How to check if the antivirus works?

Fortunately for you, we'll take care of checking if the antivirus works during the review! If you have been following us for some time, you know how we proceed to test a given security suite (another term not used at random, as we will see in conclusion), for example Bitdefender or Norton. First, we examine any test results conducted by independent laboratories, such as AV-Comparatives and SE-Labs, which give us an important indication of the effectiveness of the antivirus engine or the ability to combat known and unpublished threats. Then we proceed with customized tests, using for example programs that simulate the behavior of viruses and ransomware. In this way, we can test the effectiveness and timeliness of a given antivirus.

Sure, you could try to visit dangerous sites or download executables from unverified sources, but why put your system at risk? Sure it can be fun and for the science, but our advice is to consult our guides and choose a suite from one of the best known and most trusted brands.

But it is enough to use an antivirus in 2022 to protect yourself ?

If we analyze the brands present on the market today, most manufacturers no longer offer only antivirus. In fact, there is more and more talk of security suites. And the reason is obvious: in 2022 it is no longer enough to use an antivirus to protect yourself. In fact, the threats are diversified and are no longer limited to the inoculation of malicious code. There are different types of attacks and not always dependent on a specific action by the user, such as downloading an email attachment or starting an .exe file. There are also several fully automated threats, and some of the most dangerous ransomware manage to blend into very small files and are able to escape the less performing antivirus.

So, it makes sense that the most established antiviruses are are transformed, over the years, into real suites, which offer other protection systems, from anti-ransomware layers, to the protection of banking transactions through isolated browsers, from URL filters to advanced protection against zero-day threats, or those that exploit newly discovered vulnerabilities that have not yet been remedied.

In evaluating a good antivirus, therefore, it is also necessary to analyze the other features offered, including firewalls and the ability to protect devices of different platforms, as threats can also affect systems considered less vulnerable, such as Mac computers.

Finally, a l Beyond the choice of a good security package, it is still necessary to use the devices connected to the network in a conscious and prudent way. Avoid suspicious sites, do not download pirated programs, avoid sharing too much personal data if not necessary, do not open e-mails of dubious origin and always check that the link sent via chat by one of our colleague is actually what it seems are just some of the steps that each of us should take steps to protect ourselves from online threats. Because, in the end, the best defense is often prevention.

Here are some of the best antiviruses that we would like to recommend: Bitdefender Antivirus , one of the best security packages ever

Bitdefender Total Security is an impressive suite with tons of features, if you are looking for an all-encompassing product, this might be for you. In addition, Bitdefender's anti-ransomware system is effective and well thought-out.


Kaspersky, an antivirus that is also effective against ransomware

Kaspersky Anti-Virus is one of the best antivirus on the market, which we recommend unreservedly, also for its ransomware protection system.


Surfshark Antivirus

Surfshark is a popular VPN provider and now offers a new security solution: Surfshark Antivirus! Compatible with macOS, Window and Android, it allows you to protect 5 devices with a single account. As per Surfshark tradition, this tool is also easy to use, and the anti-malware engine scored very well in testing. Take advantage of the launch offer: 12 months for only € 3.77!


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