Can Antivirus Software Stop Hackers? Your Guide for 2024

Kate Davidson
Kate Davidson Chief Editor
Updated on: May 29, 2024
Kate Davidson Kate Davidson
Updated on: May 29, 2024 Chief Editor

Antivirus software is designed to prevent attacks by hackers. Cybercriminals use a wide range of methods to hack people, so antiviruses need an equally expansive toolkit of defensive measures to keep users safe.

A good program can block the vast majority of threats, but not every antivirus is equipped to handle every tool in the hacker’s arsenal. For example, to stay safe from phishing threats, you need web protection. And to block threats before they can activate, you need real-time protection, something most free antiviruses lack.

In short, antiviruses can stop hackers, but there’s no guarantee. Some antiviruses are ineffective against certain threats, and even the best programs need to be combined with smart habits. I tested dozens of options to find out which are best at stopping hackers. My favorite is Norton thanks to its advanced technology and extensive features. That said, there are other great options, too.

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Does Antivirus Software Stop Hackers?

The best antiviruses are highly effective at stopping hackers. A good antivirus uses a scanner backed by behavior-based detection, a malware database, and heuristic analysis to identify and remove threats.

Real-time protection will neutralize threats before they can activate, while web protection tools can safeguard you from malicious websites and phishing attempts. Many security suites also include firewalls to protect your network and block unauthorized access. The list goes on.

Of course not every antivirus is effective. Some malware scanners don’t work very well, and many antiviruses lack vital features. But a good antivirus will provide excellent defenses against hackers.

Best Antiviruses for Stopping Hackers in 2024

Quick summary of the best antiviruses for stopping hackers in 2024:

🥇 1. Norton 360 — Best antivirus for protecting devices (packed with defenses against all kinds of hacks).
🥈 2. Bitdefender — Best lightweight malware scanner (great scanner that doesn’t slow down systems).
🥉 3. TotalAV — Beginner-friendly antivirus with lots of easy-to-use tools and features.

How Does Antivirus Software Work?

Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of how the top antivirus programs work to protect you:

  • Malware database: The engine scans files and programs on your computer by comparing them against a regularly updated database of known threats.
  • Heuristic analysis: Beyond basic signature matching, heuristic analysis helps the antivirus engine detect new, unknown viruses by looking for characteristics typical of malware.
  • Behavior-based detection: This advanced form of protection monitors the behavior of software within your system. If a program starts acting oddly (like trying to access sensitive files), the antivirus flags it as potentially malicious and initiates a quarantine.
  • Real-time protection: This feature actively scans files as they are accessed, preventing malware from executing on your devices.
  • Web protection: As you browse the internet, web protection blocks malicious websites (including phishing pages) and scans downloaded files before they can do harm.
  • Firewall: A firewall can control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules. It’s a first line of defense in preventing attackers from accessing your system through the internet.
  • Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS): An IPS works alongside the firewall by monitoring network traffic to detect and prevent attacks before they reach your devices.

Who Are Hackers & What Do They Do?

Hackers are generally divided into these three groups, based on their motivations:

  • White hat hackers: Also known as ethical hackers, these professionals use their skills to strengthen security systems. They’re often hired by organizations to perform penetration tests and vulnerability assessments. They’re given permission to break into systems with the aim of discovering potential security weaknesses. Their goal is to identify any vulnerabilities so that they can be patched before malicious hackers can exploit them. Big tech companies and top antivirus providers like Norton and Bitdefender employ white hat hackers.
  • Gray hat hackers: These hackers operate in a moral gray area, blurring the line between ethical and unethical hacking. They might hack into systems without permission to identify vulnerabilities. Instead of exploiting these for harmful purposes, they report them to the organization — however, since they don’t have permission, their actions are still considered illegal despite often leading to improved security.
  • Black hat hackers: These individuals break into systems illegally with malicious intentions, such as stealing sensitive data, spreading malware, or disrupting services. Their motives can be for personal gain, to make a political statement, or just for the challenge. Black hat hackers are responsible for creating and spreading malware, conducting denial of service attacks, and other cybercrimes that can cause significant harm to individuals and companies.

Common Types of Hacking (& How to Avoid Them)

Hacking is a broad term that covers a wide range of activities. Here are some of the most common forms of hacking.

Malware

Malware is software that’s designed to infiltrate, damage, or disable computers, networks, or mobile devices.

This includes viruses, which replicate themselves and spread to other devices; worms, which exploit network vulnerabilities to spread; trojans, which disguise themselves as legitimate software and then damage your system or steal data once installed; and spyware, which secretly collects personal information. It also includes ransomware, which encrypts files on a device and demands a ransom for their decryption, and rootkits, which bury into the deepest level of your operating system and are especially hard to remove.

How to avoid general malware:

  • Use reliable antivirus software to detect and remove threats.
  • Keep all software updated to reduce vulnerabilities.
  • Be extremely cautious with links and attachments from unknown sources.
  • Employ strong, unique passwords using a password manager.
  • Avoid connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks if possible.
  • Protect your network with a high-quality virtual private network (VPN) — especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.

Phishing

Phishing is when hackers attempt to trick users into providing sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers. This usually involves a cybercriminal creating fake login pages or forms that look very similar to the real websites, like those of banks and social media sites. These fake pages won’t actually get you logged into your accounts; they are tricks to get your private information.

How to avoid phishing scams:

  • Verify the sender’s details before clicking links or downloading attachments.
  • Use an antivirus with web protection.
  • Be cautious about sharing personal information on social media, which phishers may use for targeted attacks.
  • Regularly update your software, including email clients.
  • Read our complete guide on what phishing is and how to protect yourself from it.

Zero-Day Exploits

Zero-day exploits take advantage of vulnerabilities in software before the developer has released a patch that fixes the issue. These attacks can be particularly dangerous because there is no known defense when they’re first discovered.

How to avoid zero-day exploits:

  • Use antivirus software that uses heuristics and machine learning rather than software that relies solely on a malware database.
  • Regularly update all software to apply security patches as soon as they’re released.
  • Follow good security practices, such as minimizing the use of administrative privileges.
  • Learn more about zero-day exploits in our full guide.

​Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MitM)

MitM attacks involve an attacker secretly relaying or possibly altering communications between two parties who believe they’re communicating directly with each other. Common examples include eavesdropping on public Wi-Fi networks and intercepting data transfers.

Similarly, hackers are known to create malicious Wi-Fi networks (often called “evil twin” hotspots). These mimic legitimate public Wi-Fi networks, like the kind you find in coffee shops or malls. When you connect to such a network, the attacker can monitor your online activities and potentially steal sensitive information.

How to avoid MitM attacks and fake Wi-Fi networks:

  • Always use encrypted connections (HTTPS) for all your online activities.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions (you could also use your mobile data instead), or use a reliable VPN.
  • Keep your network security software up-to-date to detect and prevent unauthorized interceptions.

Data Breaches

Data breaches occur when hackers infiltrate a larger system (like a company or a website) using one of the above methods. Once they’re in, they can see the personal information of those using the service, meaning millions of people can be affected. Hackers who successfully execute a data breach can go on to hack into the accounts of victims or sell their information to third parties.

Notorious examples include a Facebook breach that leaked personal details about over 500 million users. This information included names, locations, phone numbers, and birth dates.

There’s not really anything you can do to prevent a service you use from falling victim to a hack, but there are ways you can protect yourself from the fallout of a data breach. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Use a reputable password manager to generate and store complex passwords for each of your online accounts.
  • Do not reuse usernames and passwords across multiple accounts.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever it’s available to add an extra layer of security.
  • Regularly update your passwords, especially after hearing about a data breach.

Brute Forcing

Brute forcing is a primitive method that hackers use to penetrate accounts. It involves using software to generate a large number of consecutive password guesses. If successful, hackers can gain unauthorized access to targeted accounts.

Sensitive user data obtained in this way can include login credentials, personal information, and financial details. Depending on what has been exposed, hackers might use the information to steal a victim’s money, blackmail them, or sell their information on the dark web. A notorious instance of brute-forcing was the LinkedIn data breach, which saw millions of passwords compromised.

Brute forcing works well if the accounts being attacked have short or common passwords. It is not effective against accounts that use long, complex passwords combining letters, numbers, and symbols. Additionally, accounts protected by two-factor authentication (2FA) are safe from this type of hack.

How to defend against brute forcing:

  • Generate strong, complex passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols (a good password manager can help you do this).
  • Regularly update your passwords.
  • Implement 2FA to add a second layer of security to your accounts beyond just the password.
  • Stay vigilant about security updates and patches for your software and systems.

Code Injections

A code injection involves malicious actors adding their own code to otherwise trustworthy third-party apps. Hackers rely on backdoors or undiscovered vulnerabilities in software to achieve this. Executing a code injection essentially lets hackers automatically install their malware onto devices, with no action required on the part of the victims.

Depending on what code is injected, this type of attack can have any number of effects. Hackers often create code injections that force affected devices to download additional malware (including ransomware). Other common attacks steal personal information or simply deface the affected computer, changing its appearance and functions simply to annoy the user.

Famously, CCleaner, a very popular system clean-up tool, was affected by a malicious code insertion in 2017. The attack resulted in spyware being installed on over 2 million devices.

The websites you visit can also fall victim to code injections. Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks can have similar results to code injections targeting apps, including putting anyone who visits an affected site at risk of identity theft.

There’s no way for an individual to prevent the apps and websites they use from suffering code injections. Many antiviruses won’t even help because trustworthy apps that have fallen victim to this type of attack won’t be included in malware databases. That said, there are some steps you can take to protect your devices from code injections:

  • Use an antivirus with effective behavior-based detection capabilities.
  • Make sure your firewall is turned on at all times.
  • Regularly update your apps so that unknown backdoors and vulnerabilities are closed as they are discovered.
  • Consider adding an ad and script blocker to your browser.
  • Remove apps and browser extensions you don’t use to reduce your risk.
  • Avoid apps that don’t receive regular updates from the developer.

IoT Hacking

Internet of Things (IoT) hacking involves criminals gaining unauthorized access to IoT devices in homes, such as smart thermostats and security cameras. These devices often lack robust security, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Attackers can exploit these weaknesses to steal personal data, take control of the devices, or use them to launch attacks on other systems. IoT hacking can lead to privacy intrusions, like having your own security camera or television record you. It can also disrupt home automation systems.

How to protect against IoT hacking:

  • Regularly update your devices with the latest firmware to address security vulnerabilities.
  • Use strong, unique passwords for all device settings and Wi-Fi networks.
  • Use basic network security measures, like firewalls.
  • Monitor connected devices for any unusual activity that might suggest a security breach.

How to Use Antivirus Software to Stop Hackers (Step-by-Step Guide)

Step 1. Install a Reliable Antivirus

The first step is to use good antivirus software. A strong product can stop the vast majority of threats posed by hackers.

In this example I’m using Norton 360, but the process will be very similar for other antiviruses.

How to Use Antivirus Software to Stop Hackers (Step-by-Step Guide)

Head over to the antivirus’s official website and sign up for a subscription. Then, install the antivirus on your computer and/or other devices.

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Step 2. Run a Full System Scan

Choose Full Scan then click Go.

How to Use Antivirus Software to Stop Hackers (Step-by-Step Guide)

It’s important that you let the scan run to completion — this can take up to an hour. Your antivirus will analyze every file on your device and alert you to anything suspicious. You can then follow the instructions to remove or quarantine any threats.

Step 3. Turn on the Smart Firewall and All Other Protections

Make sure all of the advanced protections are turned on. In Norton’s case, this includes Auto-Protect (Norton’s real-time protection), Smart Firewall, web protection, and more. These should be on by default, but it never hurts to check.

How to Use Antivirus Software to Stop Hackers (Step-by-Step Guide)

Step 4. Check for Additional Features

Many antivirus programs include additional features that significantly enhance your digital security. Here’s how you can use them to protect against hackers:

  • Secure browser: Provides a dedicated browser enhanced with safety features, allowing for more secure online transactions while also protecting against fraud and phishing sites.
  • VPN (virtual private network): Encrypts your internet connection to keep your online activities private, especially on public Wi-Fi.
  • Data breach monitoring: Alerts you if your personal information is found exposed online so you can act swiftly to secure your accounts.
  • Password manager: Manages and encrypts your passwords, allowing you to maintain complex, unique passwords for each site without needing to remember them all.
  • Parental controls: Helps you manage and control the online activities of your children, protecting them from inappropriate content and online risks.
  • Identity theft protection: Monitors for unauthorized use of your personal information and provides alerts to help prevent identity theft.
  • File shredder: Permanently deletes files to ensure sensitive information can’t be retrieved by hackers.
  • System optimization: Cleans up your system to improve performance, which can also help security programs run more efficiently.

All of these tools combined provide very strong protection against a wide array of security threats. I recommend using every feature available at all times. However, with many antivirus products (including Norton), some features require separate apps.

Other Ways to Stop Hackers

Here are some more simple tips that will keep your online activity safe from hackers:

  • Use a VPN: A VPN encrypts your data, making it more difficult to access. It keeps what you do online private from hackers, especially when you’re on public Wi-Fi.
  • Password manager: These tools will help you create and remember strong passwords for all your accounts so you don’t have to.
  • Update your software: Always make sure your software is up-to-date. Updates fix security holes that hackers could use to break into your devices.
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA): This adds an extra step to your login process, usually a code sent to your phone. It makes it tougher for hackers to get into your accounts, even if they know your password.
  • Be careful with links and emails: Don’t click on links or download attachments from emails you weren’t expecting. This can protect you from scams and viruses.
  • Secure your home Wi-Fi: Make sure your home Wi-Fi has a strong password and its security settings are up to date. This keeps strangers and hackers out of your network.
  • Use secure browsers: Some web browsers are better at protecting you from downloading harmful files or visiting dangerous sites than others. Norton’s secure browser provides a sealed environment, making online payments and banking super secure.
  • Be smart about sharing: Think twice before you share personal information online. More info out there means there’s more for hackers to go off if they happen to target any of your accounts.

By combining these methods with good antivirus software, you can create a strong defense against hackers trying to steal your information or mess with your devices.

Can Free Antivirus Software Stop Hackers?

Free antivirus software provides very basic protection. Most free antiviruses are better than nothing, but they don’t offer the same level of defense that you get with premium software. Free programs usually offer basic features like malware scans which, if you time it right, can detect and remove threats.

However, they generally fall short in defending against more sophisticated cyber threats. For example, zero-day attacks (where hackers exploit previously unknown software vulnerabilities) are less likely to be stopped. They also usually lack real-time protection, so threats won’t be identified automatically.

On the other hand, the best premium antiviruses offer much stronger protection from hackers. You can benefit from a broader range of advanced security tools including smart firewalls, system optimization tools, and identity theft protection. Additionally, paid antiviruses typically update more frequently, providing timely protection against new threats as they emerge.

Norton is the best antivirus software currently available. It consistently scores 100% in malware detection tests.

In my experience, dedicated customer support is another huge benefit. Having expert help can be invaluable, particularly if you encounter complex issues or need assistance recovering from a cyber attack. Free antiviruses generally have no customer support at all (with few exceptions).

Frequently Asked Questions

What software stops hackers?

Antivirus software stops hackers by detecting, blocking, and removing malicious software from your devices. It scans your system for known threats, monitors behavior to identify suspicious activities, and provides real-time protection against malware.

Also, many antivirus programs include features like firewalls and phishing protection to further secure your data from unauthorized access and online scams. Norton is my top pick for the best antivirus software.

What is the best antivirus for stopping hackers?

There are many antiviruses that can stop hackers. However, Norton is my top recommendation thanks to its powerful internet security features. It includes advanced features like real-time threat protection, a smart firewall, and a risk management system.

Norton also consistently scores perfect malware detection rates, including against ransomware and other threats. Its tools for identity protection and online privacy also make it a top choice.

What is the best protection against hackers?

The best protection against hackers is a combination of antivirus software and safe browsing habits. Using a reliable antivirus program protects your devices from malicious software and attacks, but you should couple this with safe browsing habits (like avoiding suspicious links, using strong, unique passwords, and enabling two-factor authentication wherever possible). This significantly improves your defense against cyber threats.

Can hackers hide from an antivirus?

Yes, hackers can sometimes hide from antivirus if the software is not up-to-date or lacking in quality. However, high-quality antivirus apps like Norton are equipped with advanced detection technologies that make it difficult for hackers to remain undetected.

The best antiviruses use heuristic analysis, behavior monitoring, and machine learning to detect and block sophisticated malware that tries to hide or disguise its presence. You can use any of our top recommended antiviruses for excellent protection from hackers.

What devices get hacked the most?

Windows computers and Android devices like phones and tablets are hacked the most frequently, due to their widespread use and the high number of vulnerabilities associated with their operating systems. iOS devices also face security threats, though far less frequently.

Mac computers are less commonly hacked, not necessarily because they are more secure, but because they have a smaller market share. This makes them less attractive targets for widespread attacks.

Best Antiviruses for Stopping Hackers — Final Score:

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About the Author
Kate Davidson
Kate Davidson
Chief Editor
Updated on: May 29, 2024

About the Author

Kate Davidson is a Chief Editor at SafetyDetectives. She has many years of experience as a journalist and communications professional, and has worked for media organizations, government agencies, and NGOs in multiple countries. Kate has always had a deep interest in cybersecurity, which has — together with her passion for crafting quality content — allowed her to bring complex topics about antiviruses, password managers, VPNs, and overall online security closer to our readers. In her spare time, Kate enjoys spending time with her family, cooking Italian food, and doing yoga by the sea.

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