First published: 08 Apr 2020
Last updated: 11 Apr 2023

Content written for

Individuals & families
Small & medium business

Antivirus software provides protection against malicious software (or malware). It helps to keep your devices secure and protect your personal information.

Malicious software (or malware) can stop your computer from working and steal, delete or corrupt your files. It could also allow someone to access your computer, along with your personal or business information.

Your device can be infected by malware in many ways, including:

  • Clicking on infected website links.
  • Opening infected email attachments.
  • Visiting websites that have been infected by malware.
  • Downloading infected apps and files from the internet.

A malware infection can have a serious and far-reaching impact. Follow our guidance to learn more about antivirus software and how to use it to keep your device secure.

Where do I get antivirus software?

You likely already have antivirus built-in on your current device. Most modern Windows and Apple computers have it included for free. Similarly, Android and Apple smartphones also come with antivirus software.

There are also third-party antivirus options. These can offer more features than what’s included in your free, built-in antivirus.

Some new computers may also come with a trial version of a third-party antivirus product installed. If this is the case, ensure you research the product and its company to understand its functions and any hidden costs. For example, a company may fund their free antivirus product by other means, like displaying advertisements, or by collecting and selling your data to other businesses. When the trial version expires, you may consider paying to continue, or using your devices built-in antivirus.

Remember, antivirus does not protect against all threats. It is most effective when paired with good security habits and practices. Ensure you follow the ASD's ACSC’s guidance to protect and secure yourself online.

Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices include antivirus software called Windows Security. You can open it by searching “Windows Security” on your computer, or by clicking the shield icon on the taskbar.

To learn more, visit Microsoft’s website.

Apple computers include antivirus software called XProtect. It runs silently in the background and does not provide options for manual scanning or configuration.

To learn more about macOS security, visit Apple’s website.

iPhones and iPads include built-in antivirus protection and security features that run in the background. Apple also has a thorough review process that prevents most malicious apps from being available to download from the official App Store.

The best way to keep your Apple mobile device secure is to keep your device updated, and follow the ASD's ACSC’s advice to secure your mobile phone.

Linux and its common distributions do not come with built in antivirus software.

Instead, if you are using or administering a Linux system, refer to the ASD's ACSC’s guidance on Hardening Linux Workstations and Servers.

ChromeOS have built-in security features that run in the background. ChromeOS does not include antivirus by design. In most cases, antivirus is not required, as you can only install software that is authorised by Google.

To learn more, visit Google’s website.

Mobile Android devices have security features that run in the background. In most cases, they also include Google Play Protect, which will scan applications for malware before you install them.

The best way to keep your Android device secure is to keep your device updated, and follow the ASD's ACSC’s advice to secure your mobile phone.

Using antivirus software

Whether you are using your device’s built-in antivirus or a third-party alternative, there are some key steps you can take to make your device more secure.

Depending on your device and antivirus software, some steps may be managed for you automatically; you may not be able to complete them manually.

For antivirus to work effectively, it needs to be regularly updated along with your device. Check that your device and antivirus software is set to install updates automatically and regularly check that this is still enabled.

Antivirus software uses a list of “signatures” to identify malicious software. Check that your antivirus software is also receiving signature updates. If your antivirus software is on an expired subscription, you may need to renew the subscription or switch to a free alternative product to receive the latest signature updates.

Built-in antivirus should be enabled by default, refer to your specific device above for more information. If you are using third-party antivirus, check that it is installed and working properly by opening it on your device.

If you have just set up a new device, or recently installed and turned on antivirus, run a full scan to check that your device is free of any malware.

After running an initial scan, make sure your antivirus is set up to automatically scan at regular intervals. Depending on the type of device, it may automatically do this in the background, or at set intervals, such as once per week.

Some forms of malware try to trick you into clicking on fake alerts by making them look like alerts from your antivirus software. Familiarise yourself with your security software, including what a legitimate alert looks like.

You can identify fake alerts by looking for signs such as:

  • Urgent tones
  • Requests for money
  • Poor grammar
  • Vague wording

Third-party antivirus

There may be cases where you require extra security and features that a free, built-in antivirus does not provide. Endpoint security is another term used for software that provides modern antivirus along with a number of other features.

When deciding if you require a paid or third-party antivirus, consider your security needs, situation and budget. For example, you may run a business and manage different types of devices and operating systems. In this case, an endpoint security product may provide extra features that also assist in the security management of these devices. If your organisation handles sensitive data, such as medical or financial information, a third-party antivirus can provide extra levels of security.

Some features that third-party antivirus and endpoint security provide may be of benefit to you or your organisation. These could include:

  • Monitoring and management of multiple devices
  • Data loss prevention (DLP)
  • Compatibility with multiple operating systems
  • Threat detection and protection
  • Ransomware protection
  • Efficient scanning and higher system performance
  • Anti-theft protection
  • Live support options

Third-party antivirus packages may sometimes include other unrelated functionality, such as a VPN or password manager. Consider researching the quality and reputation of these features separately.

When searching online for antivirus software, be aware that malware may pose as a fake antivirus product.

Always check that you are using the provider’s official website when purchasing and downloading antivirus software.

Research and consider the reputation, relevant features and cost when choosing a third-party antivirus provider or product. Also, consider any existing antivirus software installed on your devices and its compatibility with other products.

Was this information helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!


Tell us why this information was helpful and we’ll work on making more pages like it