Introduction to Antivirus Software

Anyone can pick up a virus on their computer. You can be as careful as possible and they still slip through from time to time. That’s why it’s important to have some sort of antivirus program on your computer to help protect yourself. The last thing you want is a nasty bug getting into your files and causing havoc. If they do get in it can lead to a whole host of problems. Personal data can be stolen, files deleted or the virus might just scramble everything until nothing works anymore. Whatever happens you can bet it’s not going to be good.

We’re going to talk about what an antivirus program actually does, look at a few popular options and also some to avoid. The more you know about antivirus software the better equipped you’ll be to make the right decision when you choose one.

What is Antivirus software?

Yellow antivirus text with virus crossed outAn antivirus program is a tool that detects viruses and removes them before they can do any damage. It does this by routinely scanning your computer for threats, inspecting incoming downloads and checking out attachments to emails. With the aid of a firewall it can also actively detect virus dangers that try to sneak in through less common channels.

Antivirus programs are continually updated with a list of known viruses since new ones are created each day. If any suspicious programs on this list are found on your computer it will remove them for you. A good antivirus program should run quietly in the background and only bother you when something is found.

What’s a Firewall?

cartoon of fire next to a brick wallGood antivirus programs come with a firewall that adds an active layer of protection to your computer. A firewall is like a security guard that checks everything coming in over the internet and stops anything unwanted. There is a ton of data that your computer receives that you don’t even realize. These backdoors are used by sneaky viruses to avoid being stopped by safe browsing habits. A firewall keeps an eye on these backdoors for you but they’re not perfect. That’s why it’s paired with the tools that scan your hard drive for anything that snuck by.

Pre-Installed Antivirus

Cartoon of people putting blcoks into a wallAlmost every computer you buy these days comes with an antivirus program preinstalled. Usually this is either Norton or McAfee and you might think that’s all you need but you’d be wrong. These antivirus programs are commonly disliked for a number of reasons:

  • The versions of these programs installed at the factory are often thirty day trial versions. They will be fine for a time but then you’ll be prompted to purchase a subscription. There are better, free antivirus programs out there that are a smarter choice.
  • Antivirus programs like Norton or McAfee tend to dig their way into every corner of your system and get involved in everything you do. It can seem like you can’t do anything without these programs getting in the way and throwing up popups. All this adds up to a slower computer and often they will give you trouble with certain programs they don’t like.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect antivirus program and these are no exception. Just because they are fancier looking doesn’t mean they are any better at rooting out a virus than a different free program.

Which Antivirus is Good?

There are a number of good antivirus programs out there but a few stand out. These are popular for being free, unobtrusive and easy to use. There are others out there that are good and worth checking out. These though have continually proven themselves and remain popular options.

AVG Free

AVG came out a few years ago and changed the way we thought about antivirus software. Originally, antivirus programs cost money and hogged your computer’s power. AVG was built on a model where the core features were released free and supported by more powerful paid-for versions targeted at businesses. Best of all it was lightweight and didn’t bog down the computer. It quickly became popular for these reasons.


Avast is another good antivirus that gained popularity for being powerful and staying out of your way. It’s very similar to AVG and also supports it’s free version by selling more powerful paid-for versions. It gained popularity with gamers because it had a ‘gaming mode’ where it would suspend certain actions to improve performance.

Microsoft Windows Defender / Firewall

You might be surprised to find that a good antivirus setup is part of Windows already. When computers switched to being always online, Microsoft realized they needed more built in security. They originally released Security Essentials but renamed it to Defender with the newer versions of Windows. Windows Defender and Firewall are fantastic at protecting your computer and since their built in there’s no extra strain on your computer. I made the switch to just using these built in tools and never looked back.

One thing I need to mention is how to properly remove an antivirus program. If you want to get rid of a pre-installed antivirus or you downloaded something you don’t like be careful. It’s extremely important that you don’t remove it using the control panel or another basic uninstaller utility.

Check the program’s website to see if they have a special removal tool that will safely remove the antivirus from your computer. Antivirus programs attach themselves to some critical parts of your computer and simply deleting them can be harmful.

Other Benefits of Anitvirus software

Mouse icon hovering over the word securityIn addition to catching those nasty viruses, a good antivirus program will also provide you with some other tools. These vary depending on the program and can come in handy. Some will detect other types of threats or simply find problems that are slowing down your computer. Others will keep an eye out for you while you are online and warn you about dangerous links that lead to unsafe websites. These features are great but are simply icing on the cake. Regular scans are usually all you need and paying for extra features is often not needed.

Learning more about computer security is always a smart idea to help protect yourself. It’s worth educating yourself by checking out some of these books available on Amazon.