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Free Virus Scan Offers May Not Be Safe

April 8, 2009

in privacy & security

by David Hakala

Quite often, you will see an ad on a Web page, in a pop-up window, or off to the right of Google search results offering a “free virus scan.” A virus scan is good, and a free one is better, isn’t it? Not necessarily.

What’s being offered is an intimate invasion of your computer. The virus scan Web site will probe every file on your hard drive(s), purportedly looking for viruses. It will report to you its findings but will not eradicate any malware it finds. To get rid of any viruses discovered by a free virus scan, you will have to download and run an antivirus program. The person offering the free virus scan hopes you will choose his program and pay for it. Or does he?

The “free virus scan” may actually install a virus, spybot, keystroke logger, or any other type of malware on your computer. The “207 virus infections found” that it reports may be totally fictitious. You might even be persuaded to PAY for a virus-infected “antivirus” program! How can you tell if a “free virus scan” is the real deal or a dangerous deception?

First, stick with well-known names in the antivirus business: Symantec, Trend Micro, Kaspersky, and McAfee offer legitimate free virus scans. (This is not to say there are no other legitimate antivirus vendors, but this list is sufficient.) Look them up in Google Search. When you visit one of these sites, make sure you are at the real site and not at some deceptive lookalike. Use the whois tool to look up the domain name in your Web browser’s address box and see who really owns that domain. We covered the use of whois in an earlier Tiplet.

Second, do not comply with any Web site’s request that you disable your existing antivirus software before it runs its free virus scan. A virus scan does not require that; the only reason to want your antivirus software disabled is so a virus can be slipped onto your computer.

A free virus scan is a good thing, but you have to know who is providing it.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at

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