What is antivirus software?


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What is antivirus software?

An image of a cyber security page on a laptop in a cafe

What's coming up?

Antivirus software is important for helping to protect your computer and keeping the files you store on it safe.

This activity will teach you about how antivirus software works, where you get it, and how you can use it.

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What is antivirus software?

Antivirus software is a special kind of computer program that helps detect and remove viruses you might download.

If you accidentally download a virus, your antivirus program will pop up and tell you that you've downloaded something dangerous and will ask if you want to delete it.

Antivirus software can also tell you if a website is safe to visit. If a website is OK, you will have a tick or an OK next to it.

A graphic representation of a warning that an impending download might have a virus
Logos for Bitdefender, McAfee and Norton

Where do I get antivirus software?

You can download antivirus software from an antivirus specialist website or buy it from a shop. There are many different antivirus programs available and most offer a 30-day free trial. Some examples include:

Does my computer already have antivirus software?

If you have a Windows 10 computer and keep it up to date, it already has Microsoft Defender Antivirus (also referred to as Windows Defender) software built in. You can learn more about Windows protection in the Windows laptop: Security and privacy and Windows desktop: Security and privacy courses.

Apple computers don't come with in-built antivirus software, but most antivirus software companies offer versions for both Windows and Mac computers, so you can still download additional protection for your Windows computer or Apple Mac.

A Windows 10 laptop showing Microsoft Defender Antivirus as an included app

Downloading and installing antivirus software

Mary knows it's a good idea to have an antivirus program on her computer. Let's look at how she downloads and installs a free program from the internet.

Click Continue to watch the video on the next screen.

Downloading and installing antivirus software

This demonstration video is approximately 1 minute and 35 seconds in duration. It demonstrates how to download and install the free Avast antivirus software.

Once the video starts, the intro panel fades and we see the screen is split into two parts. On the left-hand side is a search engine web page. On the right-hand side, there is text displayed, which is the script for the voiceover track.

Voiceover: "Mary is going to protect her computer with a free antivirus program called Avast!. She first types the Avast website address into the address bar - www.avast.com - and then presses the Enter key."

The left-hand panel shows www.avast.com being typed into the address bar of the browser page, and the page updates to show the Avast website. We see the page scroll down and the mouse cursor point and click on the Download Free Antivirus button.

Voiceover: "She clicks the Download button on the website to get started. The browser will ask what Mary wants to do with the program. She wants to run it, so she clicks on Run."

The left-hand panel shows the page update to show the installation process steps, and the cursor moves down the page to click on the Run button.

Voiceover: "Running the program tells the computer you wish to install it and use the software immediately. The browser starts downloading the program. An install window pops up, asking if Mary wants to install this program on her computer. She clicks on Install to start."

The left-hand panel shows the Install button being clicked and the Avast installation progress bar displays.

Voiceover: "Installing the software can take a while, and Mary may need to agree to certain questions throughout the process. She reads all questions thoroughly to make sure she only agrees to things she wants to install. When the installation is finished, the antivirus program will open up on Mary's computer."

The left-hand panel updates to show that Avast has been installed, and Mary can click on the Run Smart Scan button to start her first scan.

Video ends.

How do I use it?

Antivirus software usually doesn't require that you do anything with it other than install it on your computer. It just sits in the background and monitors your computer for viruses. Most of the time, you won't even know it's there. It only appears if it needs to warn you about a virus.

An example of a pop-up message explaining that a virus has been detected
A guy lies on his bed while watching a show on his laptop computer


You've completed the What is antivirus software? activity.

Nearly every personal computer in the world can run antivirus software, and your computer should too. In fact, if your Windows 10 computer is up to date, it already does!

Otherwise, you can buy it at a shop or download a free trial from a website.

In the next activity, Types of documents, we're going to talk about different types of downloads, in particular document downloads, and how you use them.