What is Antivirus Software, and Do You Really Need it in 2021?

Evan Porter Evan Porter What is Antivirus Software, and Do You Really Need it in 2021?

Contracting a computer virus can be devastating to the data on your PC or mobile device. Passwords stolen, bank accounts hacked, and personal, private info locked and held for ransom by hackers – these are just some of the problems you’ll face after your computer has been targeted. So how can you ensure total protection against cyber infection?

The best way is to install trusted antivirus software on your PC and devices; but with so many different choices, from free to premium services, how can you know which one is right for you?

This guide to antivirus software will answer these questions and save you the time and money in researching and testing, so that you can make the best decision when it comes to protecting your most valuable data.

The Rise of Antivirus Software

For almost as long as there have been computers, there have been viruses designed to infect them.

As far back as the 1970s, some of the earliest viruses began popping up. The very first one, most believe, was called The Creeper.

The Creeper was simply an experimental piece of software designed to spread from one computer to another across a crude network called ARPANET that eventually became a building block of the Internet.

The Creeper, in a sense, was the first computer worm.

To remove The Creeper virus, a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson invented The Reaper — a computer worm whose sole job it was to find and delete The Creeper.

From these humble beginnings, computer viruses, worms, and malware began to grow in complexity by leaps and bounds.

So, too, did antivirus software; software designed to eliminate these threats.

How Does an Antivirus Work?

Most modern antivirus software runs quietly in the background of your computer, completing repeated scans of your data, system files, and computer programs.

What are they looking for?

Antiviruses keep an eye out for:

  • Known pieces of malware, which they reference against huge knowledge bases and dictionaries kept by their creators.
  • Suspicious patterns or behavior; if it appears a non-human is manipulating your data or files, the antivirus will want to know why.
  • Any incoming data, messages, or installations. Nothing should get through to your computer without a thorough inspection from the antivirus.

When an antivirus detects a threat, it will usually alert you and remove the malicious software.

Features of Modern Antiviruses

Times have changed significantly since the earliest days of basic computer worms and self-replicating viruses.

While malware has evolved and remains a threat, cybercriminals have plenty of other avenues through which they conduct attacks.

The very best antiviruses will offer much more comprehensive protection than just simple virus scans.

System Scans

Any antivirus worth its salt will be able to scan your system for threats.

Extremely basic, and often free, versions will sometimes only run a scan when prompted by the users, while higher end builds will run regular or even real-time scans.

Malware Removal

Once malware has been found, an antivirus won’t do you much good if it can’t also remove the threat!

Not all virus elimination is created equal, however, with higher-end antiviruses usually outscoring competitors in independent lab tests that measure a number of factors including thoroughness of scans and removal.

Ransomware Protection

Ransomware is a particularly nasty form of malware that gathers your most important data and locks it away behind complex encryption.

In order to receive the key to unlock your files, you’re asked to pay the attacks a ransom; usually several hundred dollars.

While most antiviruses will be able to remove ransomware, that won’t get you your files back! The best ones will offer proactive protection and delete the malware before it impacts your files, or offer you a secure place to store your most important data where criminals can’t touch it.

Phishing Protection

Phishing Protection
Wesley Fryer/Flickr

Phishing and social engineering are more advanced identity theft tactics that work by manipulating you into willingly handing over passwords, banking information, and more.

Top-notch antiviruses will recognize phishing attempts and alert you before you make the crucial mistake of sharing your information with the wrong person.

WiFi Inspection

How often do you join a public WiFi network on your phone or laptop without giving it a second thought?

The frightening truth is that it’s easy for hackers to set up fake networks and steal your personal information when you join.

A really good antivirus will be able to scan a public WiFi network for vulnerabilities and suspicious behavior before you connect and compromise your device.

Multi-Device Protection

Multi-Device Protection

These days, our phones are more powerful than full-sized computers were a decade ago.

We use them to browse the Internet, message friends, share photos, download media, and more.

If your antivirus doesn’t offer any protection for your Apple or Android device, you’re leaving yourself extremely vulnerable.

And that’s just a taste of what advanced antivirus software can do. As cybercrime grows and learns to exploit new channels, top names in antivirus protection continue to add features to their products.

3 Reasons You Need an Antivirus

Antivirus software is a lot like insurance.

You hope you never need it, but if you’re ever caught in a crisis without it, you’ll seriously regret not planning ahead.

Pretty much everyone — PC, Mac, and mobile users included — should use some kind of antivirus on their devices.

Here’s why:

Malware Is More Malicious Than Ever

Remember The Creeper virus, the first computer worm ever?

All it did was hop from computer to computer reading out a cute little message.

Long gone are the days where malware was a nuisance that locked up your computer until you could remove it.

Now, just one malware attack could leak your personal information onto the black market, steal all of the cash from your bank account, or delete every important file you own.

Why chance it?

Browsers and Operating Sytems Are More Secure Than Ever, But Far From Perfect

Mac computers get attacked far less frequently than Windows machines do. And Windows has substantially beefed up its security in recent years.

On top of that, the most popular web browsers are better than ever at detecting and avoiding threats while you surf the Internet.

However, new exploits and vulnerabilities are found every single day.

Remember, it only takes one attack for you to potentially lose every file on your computer or have your entire identity stolen.

Hackers are working overtime to try to breakthrough your operating system’s defenses. You’re far better off to have more protection in place.

Mobile Is Still the Wild West

Unless your phone is brand new, there’s a decent chance you’re running an out of date version of its operating system.

For phones that are a few years old, they might not even be able to update to the latest version.

That leaves millions of people with, likely, severe security vulnerabilities on their phone that they can’t fix.

On top of that, more and more people are on the hunt for free apps, which are extremely dangerous to download from untrusted marketplaces. It’s also harder to vet links on the Internet before we click them on our phones, potentially leading us to shady websites offering drive-by malware downloads.

Safe browsing behavior will go a long way, but you’ll be much better off with an antivirus that secures all of your devices.

Antivirus technology has come a long way, and it’s had to. The frantic pace of malware evolution has lead to some truly amazing innovations in cyber-protection.

Today’s cybercriminals are just too vicious — it’s definitely worth exploring antivirus software further and learning about how it can protect you.

About the Author

Evan Porter
Evan Porter
Tech blogger, loves gadgets, fixes tech problems at home

About the Author

Evan is a writer with over a decade of digital publishing experience. He also builds blogs, loves gadgets, and fixes tech problems around the house.