Antivirus (or anti-malware) software is an umbrella term used to describe any program whose primary purpose is to detect and remove malicious programs.
But even if you take good care of your cybersecurity hygiene, you might wonder if it’s necessary to manually scan your computer from time to time, instead of just letting antivirus software run in the background. scans? When is the best time to do it?
Should you run a manual virus scan?
If you’ve ever used an antivirus program, and you probably have, you’ve noticed that it runs in the background as long as your device is on. So, with anti-malware software installed, when you click on a suspicious link or open a shady website, you get a notification that says something like “Threat found, malicious object removed”. It’s your anti-virus software doing what it’s supposed to do: detecting and removing malware.
Likewise, if you’ve ever tweaked your antivirus, you’ve noticed that it offers many different scanning options. Whatever software you use, it should allow you to run a quick scan, a full scan, a removable drive scan, a background scan, a selective scan, or any variant of these.
But is it a good idea to run these scans? Would it increase your security if you run a manual scan once in a while? Should you do this, instead of just hoping the antivirus will catch and block malware when you encounter it? The short answer to these questions is: not really, but there are some exceptions.
To test your antivirus software, try downloading the EICAR test file. Don’t worry, this is not a real computer virus, but rather a non-malicious test file developed by the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR) and the Organization for Research on computer antivirus software (CARO). If your anti-malware is good, you will get a notification that your anti-malware suite has detected and prevented the download.
There are several other safe ways to check the quality of your antivirus, so be sure to run a few more tests. If your anti-malware software is up to date, it should be able to detect most known malware. Virtually all antivirus programs offer so-called real-time protection, which means that they always run in the background and act as a kind of barrier between your device and any malware.
Clearly, this suggests there is no need to run malware scans. What would be the point if your antivirus detects malware on its own every time you encounter it online, prevents you from downloading it, or deletes it and quarantines it if you accidentally download it? However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
When to run manual anti-malware scans
When should you run a manual virus scan? For example, if you notice that your device is: running slow, running hot, showing strange pop-ups, glitches, making random sounds, connecting to strange websites, preventing downloads and updates, starting unwanted downloads, runs strange processes, etc.
You should also consider running a scan the first time you install antivirus software. Granted, most will likely initiate a scan immediately, but there’s no harm in performing a full scan and letting the software thoroughly examine your device for any potential issues or malware.
Third, it’s not a bad idea to run a manual scan when plugging in a removable drive. Most antivirus software automatically scans the drive or at least offers to scan it. However, if not, make sure to run a scan and check the drive for malware.
Protect yourself from malware
When it comes to cybersecurity in general, common sense goes a long way. This means you should not click on suspicious links, download attachments from strange addresses, browse shady websites or install unknown apps.
That said, having good virus protection is a must. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable and free options to choose from.