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Antivirus Software How-To Guides

Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Dec 3, 2021
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Dec 3, 2021

Using antivirus software is kind of like going to the dentist or eating your vegetables: You know it’s good for you, but you still don’t want to do it!

We understand, which is why we’ve made the process of buying, installing, and using antivirus programs as easy as possible. We’ve created step-by-step instructions on how to do everything regarding antivirus software, as well as explained terms you’ll encounter like Trojan viruses, ransomware, and adware. What does it all mean? Find out below in one of our antivirus how-to pages.

Avast Antivirus - Mac is Protected
Avast Antivirus – Mac is Protected

Antivirus How To

Installing antivirus software is one of the most important cybersecurity tips we can offer, but many people don’t know where to start. Don’t worry; we’ve got it covered.

Antivirus 101

If antivirus is new to you, that’s okay. Start with our basic guides.

To summarize, antivirus software detects and neutralizes malware, which is malicious software. Typically, antivirus software scans an entire device and all of its files for suspicious behaviors. This means that it can detect viruses and malware even if they’re not in any database yet.

By looking for behaviors rather than signatures, antivirus software can even detect malware that organizations like AV Labs don’t yet know about. All of the antivirus software we’ve tested has behavior-based detection, which is superior to signature-based detection, which finds only known malware.

NOTE: Don’t want to pay for antivirus software? Check out the best free antivirus protection.

Kaspersky Antivirus App Home Screen
Kaspersky Antivirus App Home Screen

Cyber Threats

Antivirus software protects against different types of malware, including spyware, adware, and computer worms, but what do these terms really mean? Find out exactly what antivirus software protects you against.

Do You Need Antivirus Software?

The truth is that not everyone needs personal antivirus software or business antivirus software. If you have an iPhone or iPad, for example, you don’t need antivirus software. But for most devices, it’s a necessity. Find out if you need to protect your device below.

Once you’ve determined if you need antivirus protection, read about the best Mac antivirus software, the best PC antivirus software, the best Linux antivirus software, and the best Android antivirus software.

Did You Know: The only digital devices that don’t need antivirus software are iOS devices, meaning iPhones and iPads. However, while Macs have some built-in antivirus protection,1 we still recommend supplementing it with third-party software.

How to Use Antivirus Software

Now that you’ve selected your software, here’s how to implement it, from running your first antivirus scan to handling malware.

We recommend letting your antivirus software run in the background of your device at all times, but note that this may slow down your computer slightly.

AVG - First Scan Invitation
AVG Antivirus – First Scan Invitation


Antivirus software constitutes a large part of the global cybersecurity market, which in 2021 is expected to be nearly $203 billion in the U.S.2 And it’s growing, as data breaches and cyberattacks become common occurrences.

According to our original research, as of February 2021, 82 percent of U.S. households use antivirus software. Of course, that’s not absolutely everybody. If you’re still not sure what the best antivirus software for you is, learn what to look for in our antivirus software buying guide.

Got your antivirus software up and running? We also recommend using a VPN to hide your IP address and browsing history, particularly when you’re on public Wi-Fi networks. If you’re new to VPNs, read our VPN how-to page for all of the information you’ll need. And remember, be secure.


Call us the antivirus-whisperers, because we’ve answered the most common questions below.

  • What is the process of antivirus software?

    The process of antivirus software is:

    1. Antivirus software scans programs and files as they leave devices, comparing their signatures to a database of known viruses as well as detecting suspicious behaviors not in the database.
    2. If the software finds malware, it quarantines it so it won’t affect the rest of the device.
    3. The antivirus software removes the malware.
  • How do I run antivirus software on my laptop?

    Running antivirus software on your laptop differs based on the manufacturer and operating system. For Android devices:

    1. Go to the Google Play Store.
    2. Click Menu.
    3. Click Play Protect.
    4. Click Settings.
    5. Turn on Scan apps with Play Protect.
  • How do I download antivirus software onto my computer?

    To download antivirus software onto your computer:

    1. Go to your device’s app store.
    2. Search the name of the antivirus software.
    3. Click download.
    4. Complete the installation process as prompted.
  • Is free antivirus software any good?

    Although paid antivirus software subscriptions are usually superior to the free versions in terms of protection, there are a number of decent free options. We recommend:

    • Kaspersky
    • Bitdefender
    • Avast
    • AVG
    • McAfee

    All have protection against viruses and malware, on-demand and on-access virus scans, and behavior-based detection. Some of the apps even include VPNs, password managers, and identity theft protection as well.

  1. Apple Support. (2021). App security overview.

  2. Statista. (2021). Cybersecurity market revenues worldwide 2017-2023.