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Correctly setting up and running an antivirus scan on your computer is one of the best starting defenses for keeping your system free of malicious software. A strong defense begins with selecting an antivirus solution for your computer and understanding how to get the most out of it. Learning to properly use a virus scan will keep you much safer: without regular full scans, your system may be hiding some unpleasant surprises.

As we dive into virus scans, we’ll have answers to some of your pressing questions:

  • What does a virus scan do?
  • Should I run a quick scan or a full scan on my antivirus?
  • How do I run my first virus scan?
  • What are the types of virus scans?
  • How do I run a virus scan on my computer?
  • Can I run a virus scan on my phone?

What Does a Virus Scan Do?

Virus scans search through your system to locate and remove any malicious threats on your device. You’ll find most antivirus software guards against malware. This can include threats like viruses and worms, as well as, spyware, Trojans, ransomware, and adware.

To expand this virus scan definition: A good antivirus product has tools for proactive and reactive protection:

  • Proactive protection should help you to spot and block any potential infections before they get into your device.
  • Reactive protection should be ready to take on any infections that already exist or slip past the proactive defenses.

With these protections combined, your antivirus scans should do the following:

  • Monitor your system: Checking for viruses introduced by email attachments or through your browser actions, like when you click on links for downloading.
  • Create log reports: These recaps will give you information about what the antivirus has found. You’ll get additional info explaining the type of threat and how it can affect you.
  • Attempt to repair any damage: If possible, your antivirus will cripple and quarantine the malware for removal. It will also try to mend other data damaged during the infection.

A comprehensive antivirus protection software will automatically download and install the latest virus definitions before executing a scan, ensuring that you are protected from all currently known Internet threats. This proactive protection helps by recognizing malicious behaviors that may signal an attempt to infect your computer. Then, it neutralizes them from the start.

What to Do When Running a Virus Scan

Starting up your antivirus for a system scan can involve more than just the click of a button. If you use your protection under default settings, you might be missing essential virus scans.

Types of Virus Scans

To properly protect yourself, you will need to know when to use various scan types:

  • Quick scan: Surface-level scanning that searches the hotspots of your device — these finish in minutes and might be used daily, or at least more often than your full scans.
  • Full scan: Comprehensive scanning that includes all file directories of your device and those connected to it — use at least once a week to search for deeper infections.
  • Custom scan: Directed scanning to search specific areas of your computer — use if you suspect specific files or areas are infected.
  • Scheduled scans: Automatic full or quick scanning that runs at preset times and days.

Always be sure to schedule a time for regular virus scans to take place automatically. This should probably occur during downtimes where you can leave your device active but unused. Many people schedule their full scans to run at night, find a time that works for you.

Fighting Persistent Malware

Persistent malware is a major reason for using multiple scan types. In the old days, computer viruses and malware were "one and done," meaning that they were discovered, cleaned up, and then you were done with it.

Modern-day malware is persistent, capable of hiding in registries or startup services, and capable of re-infecting the computer on reboot if the malware isn't completely eradicated.

So, part of running a scan is being prepared for persistent malware and understanding how best to combat it. With that in mind, here are some tips to consider:

  • Always allow time for the scan to finish. Quick scans may take less than a half-hour, but a full scan of your entire system can take a few hours. If you’re running a longer scan, be sure you keep your computer or mobile device on until it completes.
  • Periodically review scan reports. It's easy to skip reading the results of a scan, but the reports are a good source of information about vulnerability and viruses. Follow any instructions given for dealing with or removing quarantined items.
  • Check every day that your antivirus software is running. It must be active to protect your system. You can usually check your system tray to find it. Also, check the scan history to be sure that all your scans are completing properly.

Choosing and Installing your First Antivirus Software

If you’ve never run an antivirus scan and don’t have the software yet, here’s how to start:

  1. Begin by backing up your computer files. It's good practice to run a regularly scheduled backup so that if you do pick up a particularly destructive virus, you may have a clean foundation to roll back to. That said, you should always clean your backup files by running an antivirus scan before restoring any file.
  2. Start by downloading free antivirus trial software if you are evaluating antivirus options. A free trial can give you sufficient time to become familiar with the tools and level of protection offered by the product.
  3. Before installation, execute a critical scan of major system components like the registry and startup services.
    • If a problem is found, follow all steps to completely remove the problem before attempting to complete the installation of the antivirus software. If the computer is already compromised, many antivirus products won't be able to be installed or updated until the malware is removed completely.
    • Note: The best programs scan critical-system components at the time of initial download and remove any malware before installing the software.
  4. Be prepared to turn off Internet connectivity if you have been compromised. This will prevent any malware on your computer from communicating to a remote system that could further disrupt your computer.
  5. Completely install your chosen antivirus software once you have an uncompromised, pristine system.

Running your First Virus Scan

Now that you’ve got antivirus protection, follow these steps to run your first scan:

  1. Verify that all security updates are downloaded. Updates will include all heuristic virus definitions and other data needed to scan properly.
  2. Execute a full virus scan. This will scan hard drives, removable media, system memory, email and the like for viruses.
  3. Clean your backups first by executing a virus scan before restoring any data.
  4. Read any result reports for further action. Malware will usually be quarantined to await action from you. You’ll have to decide what to do with the potential threat. Most antivirus apps give you a recommended action to simplify the decision for you.
  5. Follow prompts to remove or keep potential threats. You’ll want to remove most quarantined files usually. On occasion, you may find a clean file that has been miscategorized and given you a false positive. High-quality antivirus software should rarely label clean files as threats, so be sure you do your research on detection rates.

Also, set up future automatic virus scans. Don't stop at a single full scan. It's important to maintain a schedule of routine scans to ensure your computer is always protected. Be sure to manage your scheduled scan settings.

Follow-up scans will require you to read the reports and take action as well. If you stay attentive to your software, it will usually walk you through the process in seconds.

Running Virus Scans on Different Devices

Once you’ve got your antivirus software, scanning should be clear and easy to execute.

The preparation and scan steps listed above will generally cover most of your virus scan needs. However, you might find that virus scanning is not the same across each of your devices.

Here are the common differences you might experience between device types:

How to Run a Virus Scan on Windows 10

Where to download: Most antivirus program install files like Kaspersky Security Cloud will be available directly on the developer’s official website. Be sure to determine if your system’s processor is 64-bit or 32-bit to download the correct software for your system.

How to run the software: Your antivirus should be set to run on system startup by default. Once you’ve installed the program, it should run automatically. It will continue running from the system tray even if you close the window.

Authorizing permissions: Antivirus software will likely need administrative permissions to run properly. If you are the only user on the computer, you are usually the admin and won’t have to take additional steps. If your computer has multiple users or is managed by an IT team, installation and operation must be approved by your admin.

How to Run a Virus Scan on Mac

Where to download: The antivirus developer’s official website is usually the place to find the installation package. Be sure to download the appropriate software for your OS version.

How to run the software: Like on Windows 10, initial installation should get your antivirus to run in the background on startup. Most software should be a set-and-forget setup.

Authorizing permissions: Again, administrator privileges are usually needed to install and run antivirus programs. Once you’ve given it access to dive deep in your system, you should be fine to run antivirus scans as intended on your Mac.

How to Run a Virus Scan on Android

Where to download: Most common antivirus software on Android will install from the native official app store, Google Play Store. Apps like Kaspersky Internet Security for Android download directly from the store and are ready-to-use once installed.

How to run the software: Antivirus mobile apps run automatically just like those on computers for Windows 10 and Mac. Some apps may only offer automatic scanning in their premium versions, so be sure to upgrade for the best protection.

Authorizing permissions: Antivirus software needs various permissions depending on how robust the feature suite is. Basic apps may only need access to storage. Those with call blockers and anti-theft protection might need access to your camera, microphone, location, phone, and contacts. If you’re using an established, reputable product, this is perfectly safe and normal.

How to Run a Virus Scan on iPhone

iPhones are a unique exception — there is no true “virus scan” app for iOS. Since the platform operates in a “walled garden,” Apple has full control over its app store. It does not allow apps to have deep system-level permissions like those needed for antivirus protection.

You may be able to find iOS security apps with other features like VPN or anti-theft. Some iOS apps may be found on jailbroken third-party app stores. However, the jailbreak process itself puts your device at a significant security risk.

To stay safe, it’s best to use your device as intended and not jail break it.

The best way to protect yourself on iPhone is to update your operating system and all apps: security patches will fix any vulnerabilities discovered to keep criminals out of your phone.

Improve Performance of Virus Scans

Lastly, if you’re having trouble trying to run a scan, you may want to check the following:

  • Try to keep a few gigabytes (GB) of free onboard storage space. Like many programs, antivirus software needs a bit of breathing room to run at its fastest performance.
  • Be wary if your antivirus is using all your system’s brainpower. You’ll need some available computing memory and processing power to run virus scans. However, you might need to upgrade your device if it is too old to run newer software. Try finding a light antivirus solution that doesn’t require much power if you’ve got older devices.

Keeping your computer protected from viruses and malware maintains the integrity of your system and prevents you from unknowingly infecting other systems. A good antivirus solution is a small price to pay to safeguard what you've invested in your computer.

Related articles:

How to Run a Virus Scan the right way: Step-by-Step Guide

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