Top Features to Look for in Antivirus Software by Peter McKiel

These days, with up to 100 new malware threats being discovered every 24 hours, it's absolutely crucial to buy antivirus software that can effectively identify and block malware before it has a chance to infect your computer.

And while most people have some sort of antivirus software installed, what many don't realise is that antivirus software is only as good as it's last update in recognising the new strains of malware that are constantly being churned out by cyber criminals.

The following guide will explain some of the most important features and functions that reliable antivirus software needs to have, so you can be sure you're computer is protected.

Automatic Virus Updates

The average person often tends to fall behind in keeping their antivirus software fully up to date, and as explained above, this is a very dangerous mistake which can render your internet security as far from up to par. Thus, the best way to ensure you're antivirus program is kept current so that it can identify and tackle the latest malware threats is to automatically connect with your security provider to regularly download new updates.

Automatic Program Updates

Your antivirus program and scan engine will periodically be updated to add functionality that will detect newer threats. It's a good idea to set your software to automatically check for new updates so they can be installed as soon as they're made available.

POP3 Email Scanning

POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is the most recent version of the standard protocol in which e-mail is received and held for you by your Internet server. It is built into many popular e-mail products, such as Outlook Express. Thus, your antivirus software needs to be able to scan incoming and outgoing POP3 email traffic along with file attachments for malware threats.

Webmail Protection

Many people these days use webmail rather than POP mail. Good antivirus programs will be able to scan your web-based email traffic such as Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail to block any malicious code in file attachments.

Instant Messaging Protection

Instant Messaging activity now runs the risk of malware infection, so ideally you'll want your antivirus program to monitor and block potential threats while you chat away in cyber space.

Realtime Scanner

This antivirus feature monitors network data as it is travels into your computer so that it can intercept any malware as it tries to enter the operating system.

Scheduled Scans

Most antivirus programs allow you to set a schedule so that the software will automatically perform a specified scan at certain times. While some antivirus products may restrict what types of scans can be scheduled, ideally you want a flexible program that permits you to run any type of pre-configured or custom scan at the time of your choice.

On-access Scanner

As its name implies, the on-access feature scans files for malware threats as you open or access them.

On-Demand Scanner

The on-demand scanner allows you to carry out a targeted, custom scan of a particular file, folder or drive initiated that you choose.

Heuristic Scanner

Heuristic scanning is predictive - this feature uses what is known about existing malware and what it has learned from past experience of threats to identify new malicious infections and variations, even before the antivirus vendor creates an update that officially identifies them.

Compressed File Scanner

Certain forms of malware code can slip into compressed files (such as a ZIP files), or it can even be embedded in a compressed file within a compressed file. Thus, you'll want your antivirus software to run a scan of all compressed file you receive. The best programs on the market are able to scan many levels deep to detect malware buried within multiple compressed files, but for the average user this won't be necessary.

Script Blocking

Script languages are frequently the culprits that execute malicious code from web sites. A good antivirus program will be capable of monitoring ActiveX, Java, Visual Basic and other script files so that it can detect and block any malicious activity.


The above information gives you an easy guide on what to hunt for when you buy Antivirus software. It also lets you know how to keep your antivirus program as current and effective as possible, so you can rest easy in the knowledge that your computer is properly guarded against malware infections.

Peter McKiel is an IT Consultant and independent advisor on how to choose and buy Antivirus software.

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