Should I Use A Free Online Virus Scanner?

Even when you’re not looking for an online virus scanner, ads for them appear on many Web sites. Sometimes, a free virus scanner appears to pop up out of nowhere and scares you with a message like “Alert! Your PC may be infected!” What should you do? Read on…

What are free online virus scanners, are they safe, and should you be using one? An online virus scanner is a program that runs on a remote server. It can examine your computer for viruses and other malware through your web browser, just as a desktop antivirus program’s scan would do. A few online virus scanners only reports what it finds. It may not be able to quarantine any viruses or spyware, or disinfect your computer.

Also, a free online virus scanner does not continually monitor incoming and outgoing Internet traffic for threats and block attempts to install unknown software. These are features found in desktop antivirus packages. To fix any problems reported by the free online virus scanner, you often must pay for a full-blown antivirus program. Now it should be obvious why there are so many free online virus scanners out there! But many of them are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So-called “rogue online virus scanners” always find lots of malware on any computer they scan. They scare the heck out you with jittering popup windows, with warnings screaming in blinking red and yellow letters, “ALERT! WARNING! DANGER! YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED WITH MALWARE!” or “YOU NEED TO BUY OUR VIRUS REMOVAL PROGRAM RIGHT NOW! CLICK HERE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

Or something along those lines. The idea is to alarm and panic you into clicking and thus buying the software without taking time to think. But there is much to think about!

Some Safe Online Virus Scanners
Do you know anything about the company that just informed you that you have a major malware problem? Free online virus scanners are offered by well-known security software developers, such as the ones listed below; the website addresses are also shown and you should be careful that you go to these authentic sites:

Remember, free online virus scanners are typically lead-ins to purchases of commercial antivirus software that actually neutralizes the threats found. If you are a non-commercial user, you really don’t have to pay for commercial antivirus protection.

You won’t find free online virus scanners at the Web sites of AVG, Avast, and most other “free for non-commercial use” antivirus software developers. That’s because their full-blown desktop versions are available for you to download, use fully, and then buy if you are satisfied. Check out my list of free anti-virus programs here:

  • AVG – is one of the most often recommended freeware anti-virus packages. While Grisoft offers a paid version, there is a freeware version of the virus protection on the website. It only offers anti-virus and anti-spyware protection (no anti-spam, anti-rootkit or firewall) but provides very effective protection from the most common threats. The Pro version has Web Shield to screen your downloads, rootkit protection, and free support.
  • Avast! – another freebie anti-virus program with basic features, and ease of use. It is updated regularly, also highly recommended.
    The Free Home Edition includes anti-spyware and anti-rootkit detection.
  • BitDefender – is another highly rated freeware anti-virus tool. Like the others, it offers just basic anti-virus protection, and I recommended that you add anti-spyware protection as well.
  • Avira Anti-Vir – claims over 30 million users worldwide, and the free Personal Edition gets good reviews. There is a paid version with anti-spyware and firewall protection as well.
  • ClamWin AntiVirus – is a free open source antivirus program, which means it comes with the programming source code. ClamWin has a high detection rate for viruses and spyware, but does not include a real-time scanner. This means you have to rely on scheduled or manual scans to detect viruses. Normally I view open source software as a Good Thing, but in the case of security software, I wonder if it might help the Bad Guys exploit the defenses. Using it in conjunction with another anti-virus program might be a good strategy.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials is a new free security tool from Microsoft, released in October 2009. It’s meant to provide protection not just from viruses, but also spyware, rootkits, and trojans as well.

Sure, there are other free anti-virus programs I could have listed, but these are the most popular and provide the best protection, according to my research. And since I noted that most of the programs above do not include spyware protection, let me mention that I recommend the free Windows Defender from Microsoft. Windows Defender protects you from spyware, pop-ups, other security threats. It features real-time protection, so it can warn you if something you’re downloading is spyware, and also automatically updates itself with new spyware definitions.

Note that if you’re using the new Microsoft Security Essentials, you don’t also need Windows Defender, because MSE includes that functionality. But if you have any other antivirus tool, I still recommend that you add spyware protection, and Defender is a good choice.

Free online virus scanners are safe and effective if you stick to known brands. You must also carefully check the website address before running any online virus scanner. It may look like a well-known brand’s page, but one character’s difference in the URL can mean that you’re about to download a virus instead of its cure. In general, if a virus scanner finds YOU before you find IT, it’s probably best to back away. And if you already have a good desktop anti-virus program, use an online scanner only if you feel you need a second opinion.

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