To answer the question, ‘can antivirus software remove viruses’, we should first examine what antivirus software is, as well as its function. A short answer to this inquiry is that antivirus software is a program designed to prevent, detect, and remove, yes remove, different types of malware including viruses, which are also a type of malware. The more complete answer, however, explains how these objectives are achieved. Let’s take a look:
Prevention – Antivirus software (AV) works by monitoring your computer for potential threats in real-time to guard against vulnerabilities as they happen. This allows the AV software to automatically quarantine suspected malware before it damages your data and PC. Most AV software will notify you when it quarantines a potential threat.
Detection – Today’s antivirus software rely on several detection methods. The most widely used method is signature-based detection. Signature-based detection uses a database of stored virus signatures and the AV software compares those signatures to the signatures of files and programs on the user’s PC. Virus signatures are unique strings of data that are characteristic of known malware, so when the AV scans a user’s PC and detects one of these signatures, the file or program with the malware signature is deemed a threat. Because signature-based detection relies on a database of virus signatures, the success of this detection process requires that the signature database be extensive and regularly updated so that it contains the latest signatures. In addition, the AV software itself must be regularly updated to make sure it is always using the latest signature database. Signature-based detection, however, cannot detect unknown and emerging threats, which is why AV software today employ several malware detection methods. One such method is behavior-based detection, which analyzes an object’s behavior for suspicious or anomalous activities or behaviors. Another method is heuristic-based detection, which uses rules or algorithms to search for commands that might indicate malicious intent. Behavior-based and heuristics-based detection methods complement the signature-based method because together, they make it possible for the AV software to detect known malware as well as malware that hasn’t yet been discovered.
Removal – Many antivirus software programs will remove malware automatically without notifying the user, while other programs will notify users about a threat and ask them if they want to remove or quarantine the file with the malicious code. Note, however, that while some malware are quickly dispensed with by AV software, there are some malware infections, such as rootkits, that require more effort and are more complicated to remove. For this reason, subscription-based AV software, which typically has more advanced antivirus features than free versions, is often recommended for more comprehensive protection.