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VirusTotal: On-demand antivirus service scans malicious files

When several AV scanners are installed on the same system, they are notorious for stepping all over each other. Fortunately, the resources of more than 30 antivirus scanner engines are just a Web-click away. Contributor Scott Sidel explains.

Security can be stressful. It's a business that involves taking on someone else's stresses, wrestling them to the ground and neutralizing them. At the top of the list of stressors are suspicious files. Some of these virus-laden files are like kryptonite; they can really do a number on a system. Using one antivirus scanner can often discover malware, but maybe the virus writer was clever enough to evade detection.

I often want to run a file against multiple antivirus scanners, but installing several AV scanners on one system usually doesn't work. AV scanners are notorious for stepping all over each other. Each one wants to be the boss and doesn't like it when other AV scanners are present. Fortunately, the resources of more than 30 antivirus scanner engines are just a Web-click away. This free service is called VirusTotal.

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VirusTotal allows a user to upload a file from his or her Web browser and submit it to 32 different antivirus engines for scanning. After a file is submitted to the scanning queue, when its turn comes up, the engines scan the file and show the results in real-time. A scanner that finds nothing turns up a circumspect "dash" next to that scanner's name. A scanner that thinks it has found something will report that the file is "suspicious." If a scanner thinks it has definitely found something, it will tell you the name of the virus it has detected. An infected file will seldom trip all the engines, but if six of them find something, it is usually a good bet that the file is corrupt.

VirusTotal soberly warns that it's not a substitute for client-based antivirus software, as it only scans individual files on-demand. It doesn't offer permanent or proactive protection for the system. And even though the detection rate of multiple antivirus engines is superior to that offered by any one product, don't get overconfident. Turning up nothing is no guarantee that a file is harmless -- but it might help to feel just a little less stressed.

About the author:
Scott Sidel is an ISSO with Lockheed Martin.

This was last published in September 2007

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