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Is Your Antivirus Software Really Working? hitchcock.com trademark

March 22, 2013

We all know the consequences of surfing the internet without virus protection...viruses, right? So we all invest in antivirus software to protect our computers, but how can we be sure it is actually working? Here is a quick way to find out.

Why Worry?

Have you ever wondered why your antivirus program scans your computer and doesn't find any threats? In a perfect world, it would mean your antivirus software has kept your computer safe from intruding malware through the combination of the program's scheduled scans and real time protection, where the program runs in the background continuously scanning files as they are being written to memory.

Since this is not a perfect world, however, it could mean your antivirus software has been compromised, leaving your computer vulnerable to malware attacks. This condition may not be evident to the user, as the afflicted antivirus program may still run scans and even print out glowing reports on the computer's health. So, how do you know if your computer is actually protected by that high priced piece of software you purchase every year?

So, How Can I Tell?

In this short informational, I will explain how to test your antivirus software for basic functionality by utilizing the "EICAR TEST STRING". This particular test string was developed in 1999 by the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research. For more information about EICAR, and to view their disclaimer, please visit eicar.org.

The test itself is really quite simple. Basically, you open WordPad, type in a string of text, and save the file. If you can save the file successfully, it means your antivirus program is not able to detect a virus in real time. Conversely, if you attempt to save the file, and the action is blocked by your antivirus software, you may rest assured your program is diligently working to protect your computer. In the event the antivirus software fails to detect the file containing the text string, it can easily be deleted at the conclusion of the test.

In the following paragraphs I will detail a step-by-step method for testing questionable antivirus software. For accurate results, the steps described below must be followed in exact order. In an effort to clarify this process, the names of Windows buttons, tabs, and fields have been italicized.

Steps In the Process

To begin the test, make sure your antivirus software is running with real time protection enabled. From your Windows desktop, click the Start button on the taskbar and choose WordPad from the Program Menu. Make sure to use WordPad, and not Microsoft Word or Notepad, as the test results will not be conclusive. When WordPad launches, type or cut and paste the following string of text, while leaving out the quotation marks: " X5O!P%@AP[4\PZX54(P^)7CC)7}$EICAR-STANDARD-ANTIVIRUS-TEST-FILE!$H+H*"

Keep in mind, this text is case sensitive, so be sure to enter it exactly the way it appears above. In addition, make sure to use the letter "O" for the third character in the text string. If you use the number zero for the third character, the virus test will not work!

Now, you need to name your new file and save it to your hard drive. After entering the text string into WordPad, click File and choose Save as. When the Save As dialog box opens, navigate to the location you would like to save the file. Type the name, "virus.exe" into the File name text box. Do not include the quotation marks.

Click the arrow on the right side of the Save as type textbox, and click, "Text Document" on the drop down menu that appears. Click Save. WordPad will open a dialog box alerting you that you are about to save the document in a Text-Only format. Click Yes.

The Results

At this point, your antivirus program should start setting off fireworks, alerting you that it has detected the "EICAR TEST STRING" virus. If this is the case, your program has done its job. You may choose to let your antivirus program delete the file, if it has not done so already.

If your antivirus software did not block your attempt to save the file containing the offending text string, you are probably in need of a new antivirus program. Now that the test is complete, you can either delete the virus.exe file you just saved, or leave it on your hard drive for future testing. To remove the file manually, open Windows Explorer and navigate to where you stored the file. Right click on the file, and then click on delete.

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