What Is Antimalware and How Does It Work?

Cybercriminals are constantly working to gain access to your computer systems. They often use malware to try and infiltrate your devices, steal information, or damage files. Successful malware attacks have serious repercussions; therefore, it's essential to educate yourself on antimalware software. In this article, learn what anti-malware software is, how it works, and how you can use it to mitigate attacks.

What is antimalware?

Antimalware (anti-malware) is a type of software that protects your computers from malware attacks. It covers all types of malware, including Trojans, viruses, worms, and spyware, all of which are designed to damage your system.

Antimalware programs scan individual computers and systems to prevent, detect, and remove malicious code and software. Their purpose is to protect systems, separating malware from safe files and apps. Antimalware tools usually include multiple parts, like phishing tools, anti-spyware, and antivirus solutions.

What types of malware does antimalware target?

Antimalware protects a user against a wide range of malware, all of which poses a threat to computer systems. Most programs cover the following types of malware:

A malware bug on a device that needs antimalware software
  • Viruses. These are harmful programs that spread between devices, replicating when malicious files are executed.
  • Worms. Similar to viruses, these programs have the ability to self-replicate and spread without user action.
  • Trojans. Trojan horses are dangerous software programs designed to appear legitimate. Once installed, they steal information, create backdoors, and damage system files.
  • Ransomware. Ransomware encrypts a user's files, making them inaccessible until the user pays a ransom.
  • Spyware. Spyware secretly monitors information about a user's activity. It can monitor keystrokes, capture screenshots, collect sensitive data, and more.
  • Adware. Adware displays unwanted ads on a user's device, which slows down the system and uses bandwidth.
  • Keyloggers. Keyloggers record keystrokes entered by users, which enables attackers to obtain sensitive information like passwords, credit card details, and other personal data.
  • Rootkits. Rootkits are stealthy malware designed to gain unauthorized access to a computer. They hide in a system, making them hard to detect. As a result, they are often used to create backdoors or other forms of unauthorized access.

With a good anti-malware program, all of these forms of malware will no longer be a threat.

How does anti-malware work?

Anti-malware works by using various strategies to identify and get rid of malware threats. Some of those operational strategies include signature-based detection, heuristic analysis, behavioral-based detection, sandboxing, and automatic updates.

Signature-based detection

Antimalware software maintains a database of known malware signatures. It scans files and compares their characteristics against this signature database.

If a file's signature matches a known malware signature, the software flags it as malicious and takes appropriate action, such as setting apart or getting rid of the file. This approach is useful for adware and keyloggers, as well as other types of malware that share similar characteristics.

Heuristic analysis

Some anti-malware programs use heuristic analysis to identify suspicious behaviors and patterns that point to malware. This type of analysis searches file structures, code behavior, and other attributes to detect threats. Because of the way it analyzes, it works well in detecting malware that does not have a known signature.

Behavioral-based detection

Antimalware programs monitor the behavior of running process and applications in real time. They look for unusual activity, like unauthorized file changes, attempts to modify critical system settings, or unusual network communications.

This strategy helps many computer professionals to quickly detect malware software by using an active approach to malware analysis. If they identify suspicious behavior, then the software blocks or alerts the user about the potential threat.


Some antimalware programs use sandboxing techniques, which allows the software to observe behavior without risking damage to the host system. If the file shows malicious behavior within the sandbox, then it receives a flag as malware.

Automatic updates

Anti-malware software regularly updates its signature database and program modules to stay up-to-date with the latest threats. These updates include new malware signatures, heuristics, and other detection techniques. Keeping the software updated ensures that it effectively detects the latest malware variants.

Benefits of anti-malware

Anti-malware offers several benefits to users in protecting computer systems from malicious software. Perhaps most obviously is that these programs actively scan and detect malware, which prevents further issues; real-time protection allows users to continue on their devices as normal without worrying about malware threats.

However, anti-malware also improves system performance by reducing the amount of programs that consume resources. It also offers protection against zero-day threats, which are newly-discovered vulnerabilities that have not yet been patched by software developers. Oftentimes system updates repair security flaws in a system, bolstering its protections, but anti-malware helps in situations where these updates are not yet available.

For computers or devices on a network, anti-malware is essential as it stops malware spread across a network. This protects the infected system as well as other devices connected to the same network.

Because many malicious software programs seek to steal or harm users' personal information, anti-malware programs help safeguard sensitive information and block data-stealing programs like keyloggers.

Ultimately, there is little downside to getting a reputable anti-malware program because these programs offer essential protections against a host of dangers.

How is antimalware different from antivirus?

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they don't refer to the same thing.

From a technical standpoint, both are software programs designed to keep your computers safe by blocking malicious attacks.

However, antivirus software aims to detect and remove viruses from a system. It scans files and programs for known virus signatures, then alerts the user if it detects any. Antivirus software is effective against traditional threats that can harm a computer system.

Antimalware, on the other hand, is a program that safeguards the system from all sorts of malware, including Trojans, worms, and adware. While antivirus software only combats viruses, antimalware removes a broader range of threats by design.

Even though anti-malware is more comprehensive than antivirus, both software programs perform nearly similar functions. Consult the table below for the key differences between the two.

Antimalware SoftwareAntivirus Software
Protects against malwareProtects against viruses
Proactively detects and removes suspicious activityPrevents malicious scripts from running
Can identify threats not previously seenCan only identify threats it's seen before
Uses signature-based detection, behavior-based detection, and heuristic-based detection to detect and block malwareOften uses signature-based detection to identify and block viruses
Typically more expensiveTypically less expensive

Ultimately, the best way to protect your computer from any harmful activity is by using both antivirus and antimalware software. This provides the best possible detection against all types of malicious software.

Do I need antimalware software?

Yes, you need antimalware software. Anyone who uses a computer or Internet-connected device needs antimalware protection as it protects your programs, files, and information.

How to choose the best anti-malware software

There are a few elements to consider when choosing an anti-malware security solution. Choosing the right software, especially for those who aren't tech-savvy, can be difficult.

Here are a few questions to keep in mind:

  • How is the operating system compatibility? Make sure the software is compatible with your operating system. Some antimalware is designed specifically for Windows, Mac, or Linux.
  • What are its detection and removal capabilities? Another important consideration is antimalware's detection and removal capabilities. Software with a high detection rate can catch a greater number of malicious programs. Also, look for real-time protection.
  • Is it easy to implement and use? A good software should be easy to implement for all users. It should offer a user-friendly interface.
  • Does it offer automatic updates? Automatic updates ensure that your software is always up-to-date with the latest virus defenses and security patches, but without requiring you to manually perform updates.

Frequently asked questions

What should I look for in an antimalware software program?

Look for three things in a quality malware detection program: sandboxing, traffic filtering, and proactive security.

What is an example of anti-malware?

Common examples of anti-malware or malware removal programs include Windows Defender for Windows security in versions 8, 10, and 11, and Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Both provide real-time protection.

What is an antimalware service executable (AMSE)?

AMSE is a background process in Windows operating systems that runs Windows Defender and Microsoft's built-in antivirus program to protect against malicious software. It runs in the background at all times.