Most of us (hopefully) have an anti-virus program of some sort installed. Normally, it quietly works in the background with little to no input from you. Every now and then you may get a message that your virus definitions have been updated, but aside from this, how do you know it is doing its job. Are you really protected? How can you test it without putting yourself at risk?
Recognizing the need for a way to test an anti-virus program’s detection process, a universally recognized test file was created for this purpose. The Eicar test file is just a text file with the right set of characters and poses absolutely no threat to your computer. All major anti-virus vendors have set up their respective programs to detect and block this file for testing purposes. All you need to do is go to this link and try to download the file.
My preferred anti-virus, Avast, blocks the file and shows me this message:
Notice in the close-up that Avast tells us that this is just a test file and not a real virus.
If you get a similar message from your anti-virus program, then you are in luck. You at least have some protection. If you were able to download the file, then you have a problem. If you can also open the file, then you are in real trouble. Try downloading each of the four file types on that webpage. If all four are blocked, then you are probably good to go.
This test is important not just for the sake of testing your program, but also so that you know and recognize what warnings from your anti-virus program really look like. There are many viruses these days that pose as legitimate anti-virus programs in order to convince you to download them. Knowing what you should and shouldn’t see when a virus is detected, will help you avoid accidentally downloading one of these rogue anti-virus programs.
Having a good anti-virus program and knowing how to use it is one of the most important steps that you can take to avoid malware. For a more comprehensive guide, see our guide to How to Avoid Malware.
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