How do you know what antivirus to use?

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The first question people usually ask about antivirus (AV) software, is ‘do I really need it?’. Once they come to understand that, yes, they really do need it, their next question is usually about what antivirus to use. The question is a good one to ask, since the myriad antivirus software available tends to hamper rather than simplify the decision about which antivirus is best. This is why obtaining at least a basic understanding of the most important antivirus software features and what they do can be helpful in deciding what antivirus to use. To assist with this understanding, is the following look at the top five features to look for in AV software.

At the top of the list is real-time malware detection and removal. Malware detection refers to the AV software’s scanning process whereby it scans the files and programs on your computer looking for malware. Since every virus has its own signature, AV software uses a database of virus signatures and checks for these signatures on your computer. The reliance on the signature database means that it’s vital that your AV software be regularly updated so that it uses the most current database, and that the database itself be current and up-to-date with all the latest virus signatures. In addition, if your AV software does detect malware on your system, it should easily be able to remove or quarantine the virus.

Next, your AV software should also use other detection methods such as heuristic-based detection and behavioral detection. These detection methods are needed to protect you against new and emerging threats that the virus signature method cannot detect. Instead of relying on a database of known virus signatures, heuristic detection analyzes and looks for suspicious code or structure in a program while behavioral detection looks for suspicious events or behaviors. In this way, these detection methods are able to identify potential viruses and block threats even if the threats are not yet known viruses.

And this brings up the next important feature: a low rate of false positives. Modern AV software uses both behavioral and heuristics detection methods, but heuristic detection has a higher rate of false positives than other detection methods i.e., it can flag programs as malicious when they aren’t. When shopping for AV software, look for AV software that doesn’t have a high rate of false positives.

Ransomware protection also makes this list. Most ransomware works by encrypting files on a system and making them impossible to access unless a ransom fee is paid. Some also threaten to release harmful information about the victim unless the ransom is paid. Ransomware can be and has been devastating to individuals and businesses both in terms of finances and reputation, which is why ransomware protection should be a critical part of your security.

Lastly, browsing protection makes this top-five list too. Since we use web browsers all the time, they are popular avenues for attack. Phishing, for example, is a favorite technique of hackers where they use fraudulent emails to get consumers to visit malicious URLs and provide sensitive information. Browsing protection prevents you from visiting these malicious and dangerous URLs.

The final word…
While there are plenty of other powerful antivirus features offered by AV software that are good to have and will certainly enhance your security, when you begin your search for a malware protection solution, start with the features listed above.