What Is a False Alarm?
Ever had your antivirus program flag up a file or program and tell you it’s a potential danger – but you’re not quite convinced it’s telling the truth?
Your instincts could well be right. As much as you might be reluctant to challenge the expert authority of your internet security provider, they aren’t always 100% perfect when it comes to sifting the safe from the sinister.
As a result - like dolphins in a tuna net - some things you absolutely didn’t want to catch and kill may be getting swept up with the stuff you definitely do.
Why Does This Happen?
No antivirus provider wants to let you catch a virus. And they certainly don’t want you running off with another competitor because they’ve let you down.
Unfortunately, this means that many providers would rather be overzealous than risk letting anything that may damage your device slip through the cracks. Any program, file or site that your antivirus system doesn’t recognize can send red flags shooting up all over the place.
Why Does It Matter?
Okay, it’s a pain in the neck when a perfectly acceptable website or something you actually wanted to use gets blocked by your computer’s unhelpfully strict admission policy. But the problem is actually a lot bigger than that, for two reasons.
First, there are some circumstances when critical system files have been erroneously deleted by your antivirus software that misdiagnoses them as malware. This can really mess up your computer’s performance and lead to massive headaches when you try to fix the problem.
Second, if you don’t totally trust your antivirus software to root out dangers and let through what you need, you’re going to start ignoring it. You’ll start overriding the decision it makes and freeing programs and files from quarantine when you think they might be okay after all.
Once you start second guessing everything, what’s the point in having antivirus protection at all? When protection of your devices is simply coming down to your instincts, there’s little use in splashing out on a system that is designed to keep you secure. You’re at nearly as much risk as you would be without it.
How to Spot A False Alarm
While you might be happy to forgive a few slip-ups, a security suite that keeps on messing up is not going to serve you well in the long term. So, how do you tell if your current antivirus software is a repeat offender?
It’s important that you can learn to identify a clear false alarm to assess how well your antivirus software is performing – and so you don’t make any costly mistakes.
First of all, remember that internet security suites don’t generally make many mistakes. If something is flagged up as dangerous, the overwhelming likelihood is that it really is malware. Tread carefully – don’t race in and download or install something until you’re absolutely certain it’s safe!
Second, if something is a virus, the vast majority of top antivirus programs will deem it such. Yes, your software might have got it wrong in this instance, but it will be in the minority. Luckily, there’s a good ways to check without needing access to every single antivirus option on the market!
One way is to go to VirusTotal and enter the URL where the virus can be found online. The site runs the link through the threat databases of pretty much every major antivirus provider and will tell you straightaway which ones deem it dangerous and which don’t. If the general consensus is that this is something nasty, you can be fairly sure that’s correct.
How to Fix It
The very best way to save yourself time, hassle, and potential disaster is to make sure you’ve downloaded a responsible tuna-fisher of the antivirus world, rather than a haphazard dolphin slayer of the first degree.
Luckily, there are a smattering of organizations out there who specialize in just that. The best respected specialist is Antivirus Comparatives, which runs a dedicated False Positives Review, testing and comparing how well leading names in the industry do when it comes to accuracy. Other independent reviewers include PC Mag, which takes false positives into account when running deep-level technical analysis of antivirus performance.
We use both of these resources when judging the effectiveness of antivirus programs on the site, so if you want to narrow your search to high-performing providers with few false positives, take a look at our top anti-virus reviews here.