Do Antivirus Programs Really Protect Your Computer?
No. Antivirus programs detect viruses, and sometimes are capable of removing them from your system; they may also protect against certain "viral behavior" which viruses of certain strains consistently do. However, they cannot ultimately protect you from viruses, no more than you can protect your children from everything that they may come in contact with. However, just like a good baby-sitter, you can extend your protection by using an antivirus program.
Even if you have [insert your favorite antivirus product here] installed and you update the virus definitions every ten seconds (or more often, for that matter) you may not be protected!
A Brief History Lesson
In this case especially, history is an excellent teacher. In October of '98 (IIRC) Norton AntiVirus distributed a live virus within their virus scanner definitions through "live-update". The virus had some interesting affects - including semi-disabling floppy drives - any disks inserted were infected with the virus but the floppy could not be "read" by that computer. It was identified and corrected within a matter of hours, however - because my then-employer updated the systems automatically whenever a new update was available - we were unable to remove the virus from our systems without a direct internet connection. :(
An antivirus program is great for what it is designed for: detecting specific strains of computer viruses that exist at some point in time as a file.
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