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The Top Virus Scan and Malware Removal Tools of 2021

Published September 21, 2021

7 min read

By Gareth Howells

Anti-malware software and the concept of ‘virus scanning’ – a dedicated function of antivirus software that proactively scans a computer system for infections and removes any malicious software it encounters – can trace its roots back to the late 1980s.

Modern day antivirus software fulfils a variety of different functions across several platforms, including desktops and laptops, smartphones, tablets and any other Internet-connected devices.

Robust, well-managed anti-malware software represents the first line of defence in the global fight against cybercrime and the proliferation of malicious software designed to extract money and sensitive data from unsuspecting users.

computer virus scan

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How Anti-Malware Software Works

Anti-malware software engages with multiple techniques to differentiate malicious files from legitimate data within a computer system.

Signature detection

Signature detection is the primary method cybersecurity companies use to identify malicious code. Once discovered and analyzed, a virus’s ‘signature’ (unique code relating specifically to that virus) is added to a huge database of similar viruses. Signature databases are updated daily, as and when new viruses appear all over the world.

Rootkit detection

A ‘rootkit’ is the method used by a virus to control the underlying operating system of the computer that it has infected. Anti-malware platforms contain rootkit detectors to eliminated the problem at its source and prevent a virus from gaining administrative control over the host device.

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Consequences of Not Using Anti-Malware Software

For businesses and individuals alike, the consequences of failing to operate with a modern, feature-rich anti-malware platform are a loss of business continuity, theft of personal information and in extreme cases, monetary loss.

You may think that it will never happen to you, but history has shown us that virus attacks pay no heed to organizational size, revenue, employee number or geographical location. Ultimately, business-disrupting attacks are on the rise.

Insurance companies often require a comprehensive analysis of cybersecurity measures before paying out on business interruption plans. If your organization is found to be lacking in this regard, you could face a cancellation of your policy and significant financial damage in the event of an attack.

Computer virus and errors

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Key Features

Real-time protection

Most modern antivirus platforms feature real-time protection tools that scan incoming file attachments, opened files and executable programs for instances of malicious code. They alert the user accordingly.

Scheduled scanning

Antivirus scans can be scheduled at daily, weekly or monthly intervals to cater to the unique requirements of each organization and user type.

Automatic updates

Virus definitions are downloaded from a global definitions database as and when they are released, populated by the collective research of prominent cybersecurity professionals all over the world.

‘Sandboxing’

Sandboxing involves an anti-malware platform running a virtualized instance of an operating system (e.g. Windows) to ascertain the threat level of a suspicious object or program. The virtual environment is separate from the host OS and totally isolated from a company’s business network.

Laptop protected by antivirus software

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Managed vs. Unmanaged Anti-Malware Platforms

Antivirus software can broadly be classified into two main formats – managed and unmanaged.

Managed antivirus platforms

Managed antivirus platforms are integral to any PCI or HIPAA compliance strategies. Managed anti-malware solutions offer a centralized hub for administrative staff to perform automatic updates, install and uninstall virus software, produce reports on a per-user basis and populate a visual dashboard of anti-malware adherence across multiple sites and platforms. These days, it’s pretty much inexcusable for organizations to operate with anything other than a managed anti-malware platform, even for small organizations of 5-10 users.

Managed anti-malware platforms are usually delivered via cloud-based administrative portals or dedicated onsite servers. These detect instances of their software on a given network and provide information based on the current user, OS type, software version and active alerts.

Unmanaged antivirus platforms

Unmanaged platforms eschew the need for centralized management and incorporate individual installs of software that require standalone updates and user management. Unmanaged antivirus solutions are ideal for single users, easier to install and don’t require the same ongoing levels of expertise to manage them on a day to day basis. However, they are inherently less secure than their managed counterparts and are usually the choice for companies who are looking to cut corners, rather than to pay adequate attention to their cybersecurity obligations.

Malware scan on laptop

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The Top 5 Anti-Malware Platforms

Sophos

Best for: SMEs

Sophos are a prominent cybersecurity solutions provider who offer an extensive range of anti-malware and virus detection tools across an exclusively cloud-based and cloud-managed platform. Their ‘Intercept X’ anti-malware tool is specifically tailored to meet the antivirus requirements of US and European SMEs. Intercept X integrates with many of Sophos’ other endpoint security products and email management tools, offering a powerful one stop shop for all your cybersecurity needs.

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Sophos antivirus software

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Bitdefender Plus

Best for: Home users

Bitdefender offers a broad range of anti-malware tools for a wide range of uses, from single users all the way up to enterprise-level organizations. Their ‘Bitdefender Plus’ platform is a relatively cheap option for home users who require a single, unmanaged instance of efficient and robust anti-malware software.

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Bitdefender antivirus

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Malwarebytes

Best for: Free option

Malwarebytes grew from humble beginnings in a computer repair shop in Chicago to become the go-to anti-malware option for hundreds of thousands of users worldwide. The platform is renowned for its feature-rich free option that provides personal users with most (but not all) of the functionality they need in a modern antivirus platform, at zero cost. The software also contains Adwcleaner – a browser based anti-malware tool that prevents programs from amending your default search engine or adding unwanted toolbars and menu items. Oh, and that’s free too!

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Malwarebytes

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Webroot SecureAnywhere

Best for: Blocking malicious programs

Webroot consistently scores top of the tree on malware blocking tests and system resource usage. Webroot’s SecureAnywhere uses sandbox-based technology to virtualize the operating system and open a suspicious file within a bubble environment, mitigating the real-time risk of executing malicious code.

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Screenshot: WebRoot

Norton Antivirus

Best for: Features

Norton Antivirus is highly popular anti-malware platform distributed by the cybersecurity multinational NortonLifeLock (formerly the Symantec Corporation). Norton AV has a reputation for its enormous array of features, industry-leading technical support, fast and efficient real-time protection techniques and cross-compatibility with other cybersecurity platforms.

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Norton Antivirus

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How to Choose the Right Platform

Anti-malware services have become a catch-all term for any antivirus program that seeks to identify and eliminate malicious software at source, but in reality, the main distinction to be made is between a business-oriented, commercial platform, and an unmanaged instance of domestic antivirus software.

Quite frankly, when it comes to standalone antivirus software, most people make their decision on front-end functionality, ease of use and pricing. It’s not advisable to jump straight into a license purchase without the option of a free trial so take a few applications for a test run and see what works for you.

Business anti-malware platforms are a different ballgame altogether. Above are some of the main players in the global antivirus market, but there are many more to choose from. When it comes to anti-malware, try not to be driven purely by price, but by functionality. Take some time to document the individual requirements of your organization – everything from basic virus scans to email security and resource requirements – and go to market for a centralized, managed solution that isn’t overkill, but also won’t have you falling short on fulfilling your security obligations to your staff, customers and other stakeholders.

Like most other things in life, you’ll only truly miss your data when it’s gone. Take the time to protect it.

About the Author

Subject Matter Expert

Gareth Howells is a freelance tech copywriter and researcher who specializes in SaaS, IaaS, telecommunications and consumer technology content. Gareth worked for 15 years as a Microsoft-certified MSP/SaaS professional and Service Delivery Manager, providing unified IT services to a broad range of industries within the public and private sectors. In his spare time, he can be found at a hockey rink supporting the Cardiff Devils or cheering on his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL with his dog, Audrey.

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