When using antivirus software, you should make sure it has an up-to-date virus signature file. Antivirus software is your first line of defense against computer viruses. It will scan your computer — typically in real time — for viruses. If detected, antivirus software will remove it so that it doesn’t harm your computer or data. For antivirus software to perform these tasks, though, it needs a virus signature file.

What Is a Virus Signature File?

Also known as a virus definition file, virus signature file is a file used in cybersecurity solutions, including antivirus software, that contains the digital identities of known viruses. Viruses themselves are programs; they are just malicious programs with the ability to self-replicate and spread. But like all programs, viruses have an identity. Each virus features unique code that distinguishes it from all other programs. Virus signature files contain these identities.

How Virus Signature Files Work

A virus signature file is an essential component of antivirus software. Most types of antivirus software will reference it during virus scans. When scanning your computer, for instance, the antivirus software will look for instances in which a virus’s code is being used. Viruses are identified by their code. As previously mentioned, each virus features unique code. Antivirus software will look for viruses on your computer by scanning the hard drive, as well as other storage devices, for this code.

Most types of antivirus software can’t scan for viruses without a virus signature file. The virus signature file provides the identities of known viruses. Using it, antivirus software will know what to look for. The antivirus software will scan your computer for the identities or code of the viruses listed in the signature file.

Don’t Forget to Update the Virus Signature File

Assuming your antivirus software uses a virus signature file, you’ll need to update it for maximum protection against viruses. Thousands of new viruses emerge on a daily basis. When a new virus appears, the virus signature file must be updated to include its identity. Otherwise, the new virus may bypass your antivirus software and infect your computer.

Fortunately, automatic updates is a feature supported by most types of antivirus software. Automatic updates means the antivirus software will update its virus signature file automatically when there’s a new version of it. Of course, disabling this feature will force you to manual updates, in which case your computer may be susceptible to infection.

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