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How to Ensure That a File is Safe Before You Download It

By Hanna Welch | September 3, 2019 |

greater than 5 minutes

Before downloading a file online, you need to be sure that it’s clean and free of viruses. There is just one tool needed to perform the check.

Before downloading a file online, you need to be sure that it’s clean and free of all possible viruses. As a control measure to reduce the chances of being infected as much as possible, you will even consider downloading and installing an antivirus that protects you in case a file or document that carries a virus is mistakenly downloaded into the system.

But then again, you have the option of scanning your file or document for malware using 60+ antivirus engines online before downloading it. There is just one tool needed to perform the check.

Keep your basic online security practices as they secure you from threats such as phishing and other cyber-criminal activities. You’re getting an extra layer of security for your files to be safely stored. If you are interested in learning how to ensure that a downloaded file is safe before opening it, continue reading and discover one of the easiest and free tools that most peers who download files online are using.

How to Check If a File Has a Virus Even Before Downloading It

You can copy the link where your file is and scan it for viruses and malware with the use of VirusTotal. Get the exact link, which is the direct link to the download of the file and not just the entire website where it’s being hosted. For instance, if you’re downloading a .doc file, you will need the direct link to the .doc file; the same is with an .exe file. Start by locating the file’s download link, then copy it.

If you’re browsing on Chrome, right-click the link and select Copy link address. If you’re using Microsoft Edge or Firefox, right-click the link and select Copy Link.

In your web browser, open the site VirusTotal.com, which has been owned and backed up by Google since 2012. You should be able to see three tabs as soon as the homepage finishes loading with the options for File, URL and Search.

Click the URL tab and carefully paste the link to the original download into the box that opens. Now Enter or click the Search button to start scanning the file.

How Virus Total Works

Once loaded on VirusTotal, the specified file is uploaded to all servers and scanned using a lot of antivirus engines. If your file has been scanned recently, then VirusTotal will show you the last scan results for the same file.

Deducing the results and meaning is easy. After scanning and checking using all the different antivirus engines, the notification “No engines detected this URL” should come up if there were no issues detected. You might also see the results in figures presented as 0/65, meaning 0 of the 65 antivirus engines used by VirusTotal to search. Your file is clean and doesn’t come with any viruses attached.

When using VirusTotal’s antivirus engines to search for malware, you do so with caution. Not every virus is picked instantly as some of them might be exotic malware or recent additions and the search engines will not be able to recognise them instantly.

If any of the 65 VirusTotal’s search engines detect something, the results will indicate that ‘# engines detected this URL.’ The # stands for the number of antivirus engines that detected the URL as a problem.

There might be cases where a scanned file is unanimously found to have or not to have viruses. You can scroll through the website for more details and find what exactly the issue was. There might also be cases with false-positive results whereby a file will be flagged by a number of the antivirus tools but will have harmless content, for example bundled crapware.

If the file download page is scanned instead of the downloaded file, go to the Download File link on the page of VirusTotal. There should be an icon to the right of the Download File link; click on it and a detailed analysis about the particular file that this web page downloads will be displayed.

Make It Easier—Integrate VirusTotal into Your Browser

Did you know, just as is the case with all other assistive programs, there is a web add-on for VirusTotal? The service comes with browser extensions that easily integrate VirusTotal into your browser, making it possible for you to right-click on any web page and then select the option Scan with VirusTotal. No need to go the longer route of visiting the VirusTotal website and copy-pasting the link.

VirusTotal browser extensions can be supported on several browsers, including Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Open your web browser and download the correct extension for that browser, right-click the link and choose the option to quickly scan it and view the results.

Red Alert

A red alert means that VirusTotal has detected some dangerous viruses in the file. Stay away from such a file and resist downloading it. Try searching for an alternative link source. Act the same way if you get mixed results. Don’t just look aside and do further analysis until you get a better-detailed antivirus result report that clears the file you’re about to download.

Of course, if a file is clean, it means VirusTotal didn’t pick up any viruses from it. But this should not be your ‘clean bill’ to go with. Since antivirus software is never perfect and can miss new malware, you can get a second and even third opinion from other sources before deciding to trust the file.

If you are not certain about your file or feel unsafe, then check out the next section as it is most definitely your saving grace. The final word is that files from unchecked or untrusted sources are never safe. You will be doing yourself a favour by not even considering them.

If You Are Concerned with Safety, Use FileWhopper

You can avoid all these risks and stay safe by downloading files only from trusted sources. Use FileWhopper to send and receive files between yourself and other trusted sources. To get started on FileWhopper, visit the official site and select your file or folder that you would like to share. The FileWhopper quick tool, which is a tiny app, will assist you to upload any file or folder quickly. While still uploading, you get a personal link to the file and share it with the recipient. On FileWhopper, you know that you’re sharing securely as your file is encrypted with a password that ensures safe delivery.

The advantages of using FileWhopper include:

  • Safety, as personal information is never passed on but is securely stored on servers.
  • Fast transfer of files or folders without losing data.
  • Free storage for up to 14 days. The recipients have up to 14 days to open and download the file. Once opened, the files are deleted completely, leaving no trace behind.
  • Your data is secured as the files are encrypted with a password that can be shared between the right people, the sender and receiver only.

This is how to make sure a file is safe before downloading it and share safely between trusted sources. If you have a file needed by someone else, use FileWhopper to share it without risking the transfer of viruses. 

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