Like us, you probably download applications and files from the internet regularly. You rely on your antivirus software and email provider to prevent malware being downloaded in the first place, but also to warn you if you’re about to install a program or open an email attachment that’s infected. Antivirus software and email scanners aren’t perfect, though so here’s a way to quickly check for sure whether a file contains a virus or is safe to use.
How to check if a file contains a virus
- Head to Virustotal.com
- Upload your file (up to 128MB)
- Wait for it to be analysed
- Check the results from over 50 virus scanners
Virustotal is a website which allows you to upload files up to 128MB in size and will then use over 50 scanners to check if it contains any malware: viruses, Trojans, worms and more.
Scanning engines include Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Avast, McAfee, Malwarebytes and many more names you will have heard of. It’s a bit like having all of them installed on your PC without the performance hit, although remember that scanning lots of files is a tedious business.
Virustotal has been around since 2007, but was acquired in 2012 by Google.
When you’ve scanned a file, you can see how many of the engines detected a problem, a 'safe-o-meter' for quickly gauging if a file is safe, and you can also click on the tabs to check out detailed information such as the product and company name, version numbers, original file name and a whole lot more that you probably have little need for.
As well as program installers and firmware files, you can scan any file, including Word documents, PDFs, videos and images.
For common files, such as executables (.exe files), you’ll probably see a pop-up which tells you that the file has already been analysed recently. You can either click on the ‘View last analysis button’ or – if the most recent date was months ago – you can click Reanalyse to check it again.
How to check if a website is safe to visit
Although a good internet security suite should have a browser add-on and warn you if you’re about to visit an infected website (just as any good web browser should), you can also scan URLs using Virustotal to double-check if you really should avoid it.
Just click the URL link to change from the default file scanner and paste in the URL you want to check. If typing it in, be sure to include the http:// prefix.
Using a similar – but larger – set of scanning tools, Virustotal will quickly show you if a site is clean or not.
If you see a solitary ‘Malware site’ response when every other scanning engine reports the site as clean, it’s likely to be a false positive: you can be pretty certain that the website is safe to use.