Antivirus software has come a long way. Not only can it scan for current infections and warn you if a file you're about to download is infected, but it can prevent you from falling for scams and phishing schemes and act as a firewall for your computer. These antivirus programs often come in software suites, which contain multiple programs to deal with all of your security needs.
With antivirus software now so powerful and comprehensive, it can be difficult to understand exactly how it works. However, users should take the time to choose the right software for them and to get to know how that software works to ensure they're getting the most of their protection.
How Does an Antivirus Protect You Online?
An antivirus program is constantly running, scanning the attachments in an email inbox, web pages users browse, and downloads such as programs added to a computer. An antivirus program will issue a warning when it discovers malicious code within a file or even if it suspects that a file could potentially be malicious. This can happen when a user tries to install a program from an unknown source.
Antivirus software performs regular scans of files already on a system or of drives, such as flash drives, that have been newly connected to a computer. To do all of this, antivirus files must regularly update with new virus "definitions," which help the software to identify the newest infections. Antivirus software could discover that a file that previously passed muster is actually infected once those definitions have updated.
Does Any Antivirus Protect From Scams?
Modern antivirus software does much more than just scan files for signs of infection. It can now help to protect users against scams such as phishing attacks. A phishing attack is when a website is designed to imitate a legitimate site such as a financial institution. These sites have similar designs and often website addresses that are close to the imitated source.
One way users may fall prey to this kind of scam is via phishing emails instructing them to provide information or update their passwords. If a user has an account with the company that the email appears to originate from, they want to protect their account. But as soon as they type their username, password or other identifying information into the fake website, it's sent to scammers.
Antivirus software can help prevent this with a browser plugin or program that verifies whether websites are legitimate and warns when they are not. However, users can also take steps to verify if a website is legitimate by examining the address bar. Financial and other institutions typically employ SSL technology so that logging into the site is safe. This is indicated by a lock icon, green text or background, and the presence of "https" at the beginning of a website address.
When users receive emails, they should look carefully at the entire body as well as the originating email address, including domain. Most institutions will address customers by their name and not a generic greeting. Poor language skills are a sign of a scam.
Another step users can take to avoid scams is to contact their institutions directly whether by calling or going to the website they know is verified. If there's a need to provide information or make account changes, consumers can do that by initiating contact. Any legitimate company representative will encourage customers to do this if they feel uncomfortable providing any information.
Popular Antivirus Software
There's a variety of antivirus software to choose from including the following:
- Microsoft Security Essentials
- Norton Antivirus Basic or Norton Security
- McAfee Total Protection
- Avast Free Antivirus or Internet Security
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
- AntiVirus FREE or AVG Internet Security
- Kaspersky Anti-Virus
- Trend Micro AntiVirus+ Security
Each of these software suites come in varying levels of protection, some of which are free. Users should compare products to find the best fit. For example, some programs offer mobile protection and can be used on multiple devices. But the best antivirus protection can differ based on user needs.