Knowing how to use your antivirus software is vital for securing your system. Even if you’re running one of our top recommended antiviruses, failing to use the correct scan settings could leave your operating system open to viruses and malware.
There are some differences between virus scan settings, though, so it’s up to you to make sure your system is protected. The exact functionalities will vary by product, so refer to your support documentation if you need to know what each scan does.
A full scan, sometimes called a system scan, is typically the most comprehensive scan that an antivirus program offers. This will usually scan:
- All system hard drives during a full filesystem scan
- Any removal storage, network, and virtual drives attached to the filesystem
- The system memory, also called RAM
- The Windows Registry, an important part of the operating system which contains user configurations
Although a full scan will usually take longer to run than a quick or custom scan and consume more system resources in the process, you should run this periodically to make sure that all parts of the operating system have been checked.
Antivirus programs usually contain a quick scan function, sometimes labeled as a fast scan or a hyper scan. This type of scan speeds up the process by ignoring parts of the filesystem that are unlikely to have been infected. The filesystem check is usually the slowest part of the scanning process, so only checking commonly infected files and folders speeds it up.
Quick scans also check some other essential areas, such as the registry, system memory, and startup programs list, but may also skip checking network devices.
These are suitable for a daily scheduled scan as they execute quickly and consume less system resources in the process.
Other Scan Types
In addition to the two main scan types, your antivirus software may contain some less essential scanning options:
This option often allows you to specify exactly what areas you want to check, allowing you to specify which files or folders should be scanned. Sometimes, they can also mark and unmark entire categories such as network filesystems or the Windows registry. Generally, it’s best to use the quick scan if you’re trying to speed up the full scan. However, if you have a more complex system (such as a desktop that includes several hard drives, including a backup partition that doesn’t need to be scanned) this could be a useful option.
Network Drive Scans
Network drive scans, sometimes called removable device scans, typically scan attached, networked, and virtual filesystems—but ignore the host operating system itself. If you have attached a cloud storage drive such as Google’s Drive File Stream, you may wish to periodically check it this way for viruses. This type of scan is often included in the full scan, but you may wish to run this scan frequently to make sure that your cloud storage isn’t carrying dangerous files among your devices.
Boot Sector Scans
Boot sector viruses and malware are becoming an increasingly serious problem. These threats target the operating system’s boot sector—the firmware that controls the boot sequence. Boot sector tools can scan the Master Boot Record (MBR) or the GRUB partition on Linux operating systems. Because this is a more advanced type of scan, it’s often available as an add-on. For maximum security against advanced threats, you should run this scan occasionally.
Best Antivirus Scan Engines
The question, “Which virus scan is best?” has a simple answer: “All of them.” But you have to know which one to use at the right times.
- A daily quick scan
- A full system scan weekly
- A network drive scan twice a week if you use cloud storage devices
- Additional advanced scan types, such as boot sector scans, occasionally
Scans can usually be run on a pre-configured schedule, after every system startup, or “on-demand” whenever the user manually initiates them.
Some antivirus tools with the ability to configure multiple scanning options include:
Norton: Norton products allow users to run a comprehensive full system scan, custom scans, and advanced scan types. The custom scan editor is particularly well-designed and includes a scheduling option as well as the ability to manually configure “scan items.”
Bitdefender: Bitdefender allows users to configure and run quick scans, system scans (a full scan method), and custom scans. The advanced options pane allows users to specify exactly which drives and file areas should be covered in each.
Bullguard: Bullguard features a wide variety of scans, including full scans, removable device scans, and boot sector scans. In addition, scanning can be configured to run “on access” (when files and folders are accessed by the operating system). Scanning profiles can also be saved for future use.
Get the Most Out of Your System
Configuring the right scan types is as important as having a great antivirus product. Choose from one of the recommended antivirus products above and configure a schedule to keep your system free of infections.