is used to prevent, detect, and remove malware, including but not limited to computer viruses, computer worms, trojan horses, spyware and adware. This page discusses the software used for the prevention and removal of such threats, rather than computer security implemented by software methods.
A variety of strategies are typically employed. Signature-based detection involves searching for known patterns of data within executable code. However, it is possible for a computer to be infected with new malware for which no signature is yet known. To counter such so-called zero-day threats, heuristics can be used. One type of heuristic approach, generic signatures, can identify new viruses or variants of existing viruses by looking for known malicious code, or slight variations of such code, in files. Some antivirus software can also predict what a file will do by running it in a sandbox and analyzing what it does to see if it performs any malicious actions.
No matter how useful antivirus software can be, it can sometimes have drawbacks. Antivirus software can impair a computer’s performance. Inexperienced users may also have trouble understanding the prompts and decisions that antivirus software presents them with. An incorrect decision may lead to a security breach. If the antivirus software employs heuristic detection, success depends on achieving the right balance between false positives and false negatives. False positives can be as destructive as false negatives. Finally, antivirus software generally runs at the highly trusted kernel level of the operating system, creating a potential avenue of attack.