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If you are observant enough, you might notice that whenever you are updating your antivirus software you would see things like 'updating the latest virus definitions'. In fact, aside from updating your software antivirus version, which only changes the user interfaces and some functionality, updating your computer anti-virus simply means downloading virus definitions.
Virus definitions are one of the oldest methods antivirus programs use to detect malicious software on a computer. Usually, when new malicious software is identified, the guys at your antivirus security lab analyze the virus to give a complete account of the threat of the virus. These threats usually involve creation of new files, modifying existing files, and causing some changes to the registry.
All these changes, or behaviors, form a list which when made available online is downloaded and put into use by your computer antivirus software to identify and fix such threats on your system. Therefore, if your computer antivirus is not up to date, it simply means that you have not updated to the newest list.
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