What Is Antivirus Software? The Top 5 Types

SoftwareLab Blog

BY: Tibor Moes / Updated: FEbruary, 2019

What is Antivirus Software?

Antivirus software is a standalone application or a suite of programs that detects and removes viruses on computers and networks. Modern-day antivirus software also protects your devices against malware without affecting their speed and performance. Read on to learn about the three main types of antivirus software and find out which are the five best antivirus programs.

What you will find out in this article: 

  1. What Is Antivirus Software?
  2. What Types of Antivirus Software Exist?
  3. The 5 Best Antivirus Programs
  4. How to Choose Antivirus Software

With viruses, worms, and other potential threats lurking at every corner of the cyberspace, you shouldn’t leave your internet security to chance. Take a look at our comparison of the best antivirus software to keep your computer and files protected.

Tibor Moes

Founder, SoftwareLab

Antivirus Software

Computer viruses share many similarities with real-life viruses, which is how they got their name. But while the flu season usually starts in late fall and ends in February, the computer virus season is in full swing all year round. To protect your body from viruses, you only need to get vaccinated once a year, ahead of the flu season. On the other hand, to keep your computer and your files safe from viruses and other threats, you need to use antivirus software that will provide full protection at any given time.

What is Antivirus Software?

As the name suggests, antivirus software is an application or a suite of programs that finds and removes viruses on computers and networks. In addition to viruses, most of today’s antivirus programs are also capable of detecting and removing other types of malicious software, including worms, Trojans, adware, spyware, ransomware, browser hijackers, keyloggers, and rootkits. Besides being able to identify and remove these threats, the best antivirus software can also prevent them from infecting your system.

When you run a virus scan, your antivirus program will scan your hard drive and all currently connected external storage devices for potential threats. The program will inspect each individual file and simultaneously look up the findings in its database of known viruses to detect a possible threat. If it does, depending on the severity of the threat, it will either delete, quarantine, or repair the infected file. The program will also monitor the behavior of all the software on your computer and look for any red flags.

Whereas once you had to run antivirus scans manually, most of today’s antivirus programs allow you to enable automatic scans and set up a scan schedule that best works for you. As a rule, it is recommended to run an automatic scan once a week. Additionally, you can also run manual scans of your computer, as well as specific files and directories. Antivirus scans are designed as background processes, which means that they shouldn’t use up too much of your computational resources or slow down your computer.

Since computer viruses are a constant threat across all platforms, today’s antivirus software is designed to provide protection on all operating systems and all internet-connected devices. This includes desktop and laptop computers running Microsoft Windows and macOS, as well as smartphones running iOS and Android. Statistics show that more than 360,000 new pieces of malware are released daily. For maximum protection, the best antivirus software will also automatically update virus definitions at least once a day.

What Types of Antivirus Software Exist?

All antivirus programs can be organized into the following three categories:

  1. Standalone Antivirus Software

Standalone antivirus software is a specialized tool designed to detect and remove certain viruses. It is commonly referred to as portable antivirus software because it can also be installed on a USB drive and used by administrators to run an emergency scan of an infected system. However, most portable programs aren’t designed to provide real-time protection and download new virus definitions daily, which is why they cannot substitute internet security suites that include a variety of additional features.

  1. Security Software Suites

As mentioned above, security software suites are more than just antivirus programs. In addition to being able to detect and remove viruses, they are also equipped to fight all other types of malicious software and provide round-the-clock protection for your computer and files. Most of these program packages include anti-spyware, firewall, and parental controls features. Some also include additional functionality like password managers, a VPN, and even a standalone antivirus program bundled with the suite.

  1. Cloud-Based Antivirus Software

Cloud-based antivirus software is a fairly new type of antivirus technology that analyzes your files in the cloud rather than your computer in order to free up your computational resources and allow for a faster response. These programs typically consist of two parts – the client that is installed on your computer and runs periodic virus and malware scans without taking up too much memory and the web service that processes the data gathered by the client and inspects it for matches in its virus and malware database.

The 5 Best Antivirus Programs

With millions of active viruses and malicious programs costing the global economy billions of dollars each year, it’s no surprise that there are numerous antivirus programs available on the market. They differ in terms of price, the platform they are designed for, functionality, as well as added features.

Some of the best antivirus programs available right now include the following:

  1. Bitdefender

Bitdefender Total Security is a comprehensive security suite that provides optimal protection against viruses and all types of malicious software. Compatible with the four major operating systems and smart homes, this user-friendly antivirus software also includes a free VPN with a 200MB daily limit, parental controls, webcam protection, a password manager, and a tool specifically designed to fight ransomware. This security suite is very competitively priced and will provide 24/7 protection for up to five devices.

Read our full review here.

  1. Norton

Symantec’s Norton has been around for almost three decades and is without a doubt one of the most recognizable names in cybersecurity. Its security software suite Norton Security Premium is compatible with all four major platforms as well as smart homes and comes with a variety of excellent features. Although it doesn’t include a free VPN service, it offers parental controls and a whopping 25GB of online storage space. This is great for owners of multiple gadgets, as one license protects up to 10 devices.

Read our full review here.

  1. Panda

Panda is another excellent antivirus program that offers excellent protection from all known cyber threats. Known for its fast performance, this antivirus software is only compatible with Windows, macOS, and Android. Despite not supporting iOS, the suite comes with a VPN service with a 150MB daily limit, a password manager, parental controls, and a standalone USB antivirus program. Designed to provide protection for up to five devices, Panda Antivirus also includes a full Android malware scanner.

Read our full review here.

  1. McAfee LiveSafe

McAfee LiveSafe is unique in that a single license is valid for an unlimited amount of devices. Compatible with all four major operating systems, this security suite provides superior malware protection for Windows and Android-powered machines without affecting their performance. Although the parental control function is not as advanced as the competition, the inclusion of McAfee’s True Key password manager more than makes up for it. Equipped with facial recognition functionality, it will keep all your login data extra-safe.

Read our full review here.

  1. BullGuard

Another security software suite designed primarily for Windows and Android, BullGuard offers a high level of antivirus and anti-malware protection without slowing down your computer. Although there’s no VPN included in the package, there are plenty of bells and whistles here, including a game booster, cloud backup, parental control, and safe browsing functionality. However, macOS users can only run antivirus scans, while the suite is incompatible with iOS. A single license is valid for up to five devices.

Read our full review here.

    How to Choose Antivirus Software

    The market is flooded with antivirus programs that claim to provide optimal protection for your computer, your files, and your personal data. With such strong competition, finding the best antivirus software for your computing needs may prove difficult. When choosing an antivirus program for your personal use, you need to consider its effectiveness against cyber threats, its performance, the features it includes, the operating systems it is compatible with, as well as the number of devices it can protect.

    While there are plenty of free antivirus programs, they might not be such a great choice, even for a budget-conscious buyer. For one, they never provide full protection against all threats, which means that you’ll also have to install at least one additional anti-malware program on your PC. Most of them are also ad-supported, which is why they’re often classified as adware. What’s more, they may even include a spyware component so that the authors can track your browsing activity and display better-targeted ads.

    Although it’s not free, the best antivirus software is often available at a sizeable discount. These programs are the only way to ensure that your computer and your files are protected at any given time. They will monitor your computer 24/7 to detect and remove any existing viruses and malware, as well as to ward off all incoming threats. In addition to your computer, they will also protect your smartphones, tablets, smart television sets, and all other internet-connected devices without slowing them down.