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Antivirus Software How-To Guides

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Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated Jul 29, 2022
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Jul 29, 2022

Antivirus software is like fire extinguishers: You know you need one, but you hope you never have to use it. With all the emerging computer viruses, however, it’s important to know how to buy, set up, install, and use antivirus software.

That’s exactly what you’ll learn in this guide. We’ve created step-by-step instructions on how to setup and use antivirus software. As a bonus, we’ll explain terms you’ll encounter when shopping for antivirus software, like trojan, ransomware, adware, and many more.

Ready to take your device security to the next level? Let’s get started.

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 anything suspicious. That could include files or programs acting suspiciously. That type of detection is called behavior-based detection, and we recommend finding antivirus software with that feature.

As opposed to behavior-based detection, antivirus software typically offers signature-based detection. This type of detection looks at the code (a.k.a. signature) of each file and compares it to signatures of all known computer viruses. As you can probably imagine, signature-based detection isn’t always reliable, particularly against viruses that aren’t on antivirus databases yet. Fortunately, antivirus software can have both detection features.

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. We also recommend turning on real-time protection if the feature is available. Basically, everytime your device runs a program or you open a file, real-time protection kicks in to check the program or file first. This could cause your programs to take a couple more seconds to run, but that’s a small price to pay in exchange for digital security.

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:

    1. Kaspersky
    2. TotalAV
    3. Norton
    4. Surfshark
    5. 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.