How to tell if your anti-virus software is working

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I’m sometimes asked how one can tell whether their anti-virus software is working or not.

I’m just glad they don’t ask me how to tell if their car’s airbags are working or not.

Anyway, here’s what you can do:

Go to http://www.eicar.org/ …this is the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR), a very legitimate organization dedicated to Internet security (check them out independently if you wish – I won’t blame you if you do).

EICAR has a “test file” that you can download. This file is just a harmless text file that contains a specific string of characters. All of the anti-virus companies know about this file – it’s in their “signature” databases just like the real viruses. It’s a neat way to easily tell whether your anti-virus program is working or not.

Test ButtonIt’s like pressing the “test” button on your smoke detector. Well, pretty close anyway (Thank you wpclipart.com for the image).

The page at EICAR that contains the test files is http://www.eicar.org/anti_virus_test_file.htm. They have several different versions, some that are .txt files, one in a .ZIP archive, and another in a “double zip archive” (a zip archive inside of a zip archive). Good anti-virus programs will detect the EICAR test file in every case, but you never know.

Caution: do this at your own risk. Depending upon how your anti-virus program works, you might not be able to remove the test file from your computer. No, the test file will not harm your computer, but you may find it inconvenient if you cannot remove the file. If you are concerned about this, check with your anti-virus program first.

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