There’s no better way to protect your computer from malware than by using antivirus software. Viruses, worms, trojans and other forms of malware typically have a unique signature. Antivirus software will scan your computer in search of these signatures. Upon detecting a potential piece of malware, though, antivirus software may ask you if you want to quarantine it. What is quarantining exactly, and will it really neutralize the malware?

The Basics of Quarantining

Quarantining is exactly what it sounds like: the process of isolating a potential piece of malware from the rest of your computer. It’s a feature built into most antivirus products. Antivirus software will scan your computer for malware — typically uses signature-based scanning technology — after which it may offer quarantining as a solution to deal with identified malware.

What Happens to Quarantined Malware?

When malware is quarantined, it’s not deleted or otherwise removed. The malware will remain on your computer. Quarantined malware is simply placed in a separate, isolated area of your computer’s storage drive so that it doesn’t affect the rest of your computer’s files.

Quarantined malware is essentially harmless. It will still consume space on your computer’s storage drive, but it won’t be able to carry out its malicious activities. Quarantined viruses, for instance, can’t self-replicate, nor can they can spread to other parts of your computer or other devices on your computer’s network. Quarantined keyloggers, conversely, can’t log your keystrokes. When quarantined, malware is confined to a separate and isolated area of your computer’s storage drive.

Quarantining vs Deleting: Which Is Best?

In addition to quarantining, antivirus products may offer to delete malware. Deleting will completely remove the malware from your computer. With that said, the problem with deleting malware is that antivirus software may wrongfully identify legitimate files as threats. Antivirus software isn’t immune to errors. It may identify a legitimate file as a threat. And if you choose the option to delete the legitimate file, it may interfere with your computer’s operations.

Quarantining is generally a safer solution. You can remove files from the quarantined status. If you discover that a legitimate file was wrongfully quarantined by the antivirus software, you can un-quarantine it. Deleted files, on the other hand, are typically unrecoverable. You can’t recover a file if you choose the option to delete it. Therefore, quarantining is safer than deleting files. Quarantining will only isolate the file so that it’s separated from the rest of your computer’s files.