What is Antivirus: A 9-Step Easy Guide


What is antivirus software? In today’s digital world, antivirus software, or simply ‘antivirus’ is an essential tool to keep your computer system safe from unwanted activities. Whether a device is connected to the internet or not, it requires antivirus software to keep away from any harm. In this blog, we shall cover the following topics:

  1. Definition 
  2. What is antivirus software designed for? 
  3. How does antivirus software work?
  4. What are the uses of an antivirus?
  5. What are the variants of antivirus software?
  6. Antivirus software providers
  7. Free antivirus software: Does it work?
  8. Advantages
  9. Disadvantages

1. Definition 

Initially intended for desktops, antivirus in computer systems has evolved to meet the changing technological needs of devices, like laptops, handheld gadgets, and more. Designed as a preventive mechanism, ‘antivirus’ is a term used for a software program that protects your devices. It comes with curative abilities, like removing suspicious files and problem-creators. These problematic entities could range from applications that slow down a system, the unnecessary windows/websites that pop up on the screen to applications that can crash an operating system completely! As technology has progressed, the graveness of these problems has also heightened. Likewise, the types of computer antiviruses have also increased. 

So, what is antivirus in computer terminology? Here is a definition of antivirus. Margaret Rouse on TechTarget gives this antivirus software definition: “Antivirus software is a class of program designed to prevent, detect and remove malware infections on individual computing devices, networks and IT systems.”

So, according to this antivirus software meaning, these ‘good’ programs scan a tremendous amount of data, like local files, web pages, and other software or apps that travel over different kinds of networks, for malicious files. This antivirus meaning further tells us that these programs also earmark suspicious activities. An antivirus brings such programs/activities to the user’s attention. It also gets rid of malicious programs (with user permission) as soon as possible.

2. What is antivirus software designed for? 

Software developers work towards developing codes that could prevent malicious applications from harming a computer device. Newer and smarter cyber threats require the defense mechanism on your devices to not just be up and working all the time, but also be up-to-date with the latest in antivirus protection! For example, if a device’s defense system contains a loophole, then it could be at the risk of picking up a virus and spreading it to other devices that get connected to it. It would further allow cybercriminals to break into the device, and sadly, they’re usually up to no good. Using an antivirus application is the first step towards securing the device and its data.

3. How does antivirus software work?

Whenever someone catches a cold or a fever, they are advised to maintain a minimum contact with other people and take necessary medication. The case of a computer system getting infected by a virus is pretty similar. Whenever a device gets infected with viruses, it is advised not to connect it with other devices. These viruses often copy themselves from one device to another, spread malicious programs and codes that could penetrate and damage operating systems. Attackers also design computer viruses with the intent of gaining unauthorized access to the devices they prey on in order to monitor and control activities on the unsuspecting victim’s machines. Hackers can easily access or damage devices without the victim’s knowledge. There is a range of common malicious software that you should be aware of. 

 Malware could:

  • Make and spread copies of itself between computer systems (Worms)
  • Steal information (Spyware)
  • Extort money (Ransomware)
  • Pop-up or display advertisements (Adware) 
  • Have hidden agendas (Trojans)
  • Spread unsolicited emails (Spam)

4. What are the uses of an antivirus?

Antivirus mainly does the following tasks:

  • Pinpoints suspicious files
  • Schedules and runs virus scan automatically
  • Allows you to set preferences to scan entire drives or even a specific file
  • Deletes malware/ blocks programs
  • Signals the health status of your computer/ devices (on which it’s installed)

5. What are the variants of antivirus software?

To deal with the evolution of viruses, multiple types of antivirus software have developed. To decide upon an apt protection mechanism, you must understand the types of antivirus and their working. Some of the different types of antivirus include:

  • Antivirus programs that tackle Malware: These scan for only known digital fingerprints of malware to detect, identify, and disable them. These are also known as ‘Malware signature antivirus.’ 
  • Antivirus that monitors systems and devices: These watch operating systems for suspicious activities that are out of the users’ usual behavior, like connecting to unfamiliar websites, a spike in data usage, or accessing a large number of files in one go. These are also known as ‘System monitoring antivirus.’

Having known the antivirus definition and types, we can understand that using one or the other only limits the protection. Several antiviruses work hand-in-hand to completely secure devices. For instance, Machine Learning antiviruses tackle malware attacks on a broader range adding more layers of security to your systems. Opting for a comprehensive antivirus solution is the best.  

One of the different types of antivirus software is the ‘Windows Defender.’ Built within the Windows operating system, this protects the system from conventional viruses, but not from malware such as ransomware. Since Mac operating systems are not as commonly subjected to attacks as Windows, they are considered ‘safe’; however, the onus of exercising caution lies in the users’ hands. After learning about the antivirus definition and types, let us move further and discuss the popular antivirus software providers.

6. Antivirus software providers

McAfee Total Protection and Symantec’s Norton Antivirus Plus are a few paid antivirus software examples provided by private software firms. Amongst the free list of antivirus software, AVG Antivirus FREE, Avast Free Antivirus, and Avira Free Security are some popular ones.

7. Free antivirus software: Does it work?

No matter how trustworthy it may seem on the surface, ‘Free antiviruses’ invariably come with the chances of unscrupulous activity tracking, advertising, and other unwanted software installations that can bloat your system. This is how ‘free’ software providers make money! Also, many of them do not offer protection against identity thefts and other data security features. Ponder upon it. Regardless of your choice, there is a range of advantages and disadvantages of antivirus software that are available in the market. 

8. Advantages

There are many advantages of antivirus software. Antivirus software protects your systems from viruses, avoids transmission, blocks advertisements and spam, guards your data/files, and keeps your systems clean. Some other advantages of antivirus software in points are: 

  • Guarding against hackers and cyber thieves
  • Protecting against removable devices
  • Speeding up your device to optimal performance
  • Enhancing web protection
  • Exercising parental control
  • Protecting your passwords 

9. Disadvantages

While using a paid antivirus suite is beneficial, any choice from the antivirus programs list comes with its fair share of disadvantages, such as:

  • Dependency on the technique for protection
  • Conflicts caused due to multiple antivirus programs running simultaneously
  • System slowdown when an apt version is not installed on smaller capacity devices


All said and done, a virus attack is something we all can do without, and the advantages of antivirus far outweigh the cons! From interrupting your regular activities to completely crashing your system – no one wants a bite of such experiences. There are many benefits of antivirus software. Having a protective mechanism is always a better route to ensure data security and protection against a whole range of cyber threats.

If you’re curious to learn more about handling cyberattacks and defending your devices, then Jigsaw Academy’s Master Certificate in Cyber Security (Blue Team) is all you need to feed your curiosity. It is a 520-hour-long online course, particularly focusing on Defensive Cyber Security technologies.

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