If you’ve used a computer before, or even just paid attention to the news, you’ve probably heard about computer viruses. Antivirus software is designed to protect your computer from viruses and other forms of malware.
Why use antivirus software?
If you connect your computer to the Internet—and virtually everyone does these days—you risk the chance of stumbling upon malware. Malware is malicious software that’s designed to exploit security holes in software, damage your operating system, and/or steal your personal data, among other things. Malware can take many forms, such as viruses, spyware, and ransomware, and different types of malware behave in different ways.
It can be very easy to accidentally infect your computer with malware—sometimes, simply downloading and running a file is all it takes. Antivirus software acts as a line of defense between you and malware, alerting you if you’ve unwittingly downloaded a dangerous file.
If you’re running Windows 8/8.1, or Windows 10, you actually have built-in virus protection in the form of Windows Defender. Although Windows Defender doesn’t receive the highest scores in reviews of antivirus products, it provides basic protection and is very easy to use, plus it’s updated automatically along with Windows itself. If you combine the basic protection Windows Defender provides with smart habits while browsing the web and reading email, it’s possible to avoid malware.
What to look for in antivirus software
If you’re looking for something beyond Windows Defender, there are plenty of options. One feature you definitely want to look for in an antivirus utility is real-time protection. Antivirus software that provides real-time protection is always on the lookout for potential threats as you download files and search the web.
For the average person, free antivirus utilities are usually sufficient and provide basic protection. A lot of companies offer both free and paid versions of their antivirus products and will often let you compare features.
Finally, you can also consult reviews from reputable tech news sites to see which software provides the best protection. Sites like Consumer Reports provide in-depth reviews for a large number of antivirus utilities. Some of the most popular and well-reviewed free antivirus utilities include AVG, Avast, and Bitdefender.