How to make sure a file is safe before downloading

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If you are concerned that a file may be harmful, do not download it and rely on your antivirus. You can scan the file for malware with over 90 antivirus engines before downloading, all with a single tool.

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This isn’t a substitute for basic online security practices that can protect you from phishing and other threats, but it’s a way to do a more in-depth check if you’re concerned about a file.

Scan a link for malware with VirusTotal

To do this, you need to find the download link of a file. That’s the direct link to download the file, not just the address of the file’s download page. For example, if you want to scan an .exe file, you need the direct link to the .exe file. To scan a .doc file, you need the direct link to the .doc file. You can see this by hovering over the link and looking at the address in your browser.

CCleaner download page.

Right-click the link and select “Copy Link Address” in Chrome, “Copy Link Location” in Firefox, or “Copy Link” in Edge.

Right click on the download link and then click "Copy link address."

Then go to in your web browser. This tool has been owned by Google since 2012.

Click the “URL” tab on the page and paste the link you copied into the box. Click the search button or press Enter to scan the file.

Paste the download link into the VirusTotal website.

VirusTotal downloads the file you specified to its servers and scans it with a variety of antivirus programs. If other people have recently scanned the file, VirusTotal will show you the recent scan results.

If you see “No engines detected this URL”, it means none of VirusTotal’s antivirus engines said there was a problem with the file.

Update: As of April 2022, VirusTotal now has over 90 antivirus engines available.

The “0/65” means that the file was detected as malicious by 0 of VirusTotal’s 65 antivirus engines. This means it must be clean. Of course, new and exotic malware may not yet be detected by antivirus programs, so it’s always a good idea to exercise caution and only get software from sources you trust. (In fact, less than two days after publishing this article, our sample file, CCleaner 5.33, was found to contain malware. A perfect example of how VirusTotal, while useful, isn’t perfect!)

VirusTotal results with no malware detected.

If one of the antivirus engines detects a problem with a file, you will see a message that some antivirus engines have detected the URL as a problem.

VirusTotal results with only 3/65 engines detecting some type of malware.

In some cases, the opinion can be almost unanimous. In other cases, only a few antivirus programs may have a problem with the file. This is often a false positive, although in certain circumstances some antivirus programs may have spotted new malware earlier than others. You can scroll down to see which antivirus programs had a problem with the file, see more details about the file, and see community comments about whether the URL is safe or not. (For example, in some cases it may only be marked for including bundled crapware, which is easy to get around.)

An overview of the results per engine.

If you end up scanning a file download page instead of the downloaded file itself, you will see a “Downloaded file” link on the VirusTotal page. Click the icon to the right of “Downloaded file” for more analysis about the file downloading web pages.

If you don't point it to a specific file, it will try to find one and then show you the file it checked.

Integrate VirusTotal into your browser

To make this process easier, the VirusTotal project provides browser extensions. These will integrate VirusTotal into your browser so that you can right-click on a link on a web page and select the “Scan with VirusTotal” option. You do not need to visit the VirusTotal website and copy and paste a link.

Extensions are available for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer. To install the VirtusTotal extension for Microsoft Edge, you need to enable Google Chrome extensions in Edge and then install the Google Chrome version. Download the appropriate extension and you can right-click on a link and select the VirusTotal option to quickly scan it and see the results.

The right click option added by the extension.

If VirusTotal is unanimous that a file is dangerous, you should stay away. If the results are mixed, you should be careful, but you may want to check out the more detailed antivirus results to see why they say the file is dangerous.

If a file is clean, it means that it will not be detected as malware by any antivirus program. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s safe: antivirus software isn’t perfect and may not detect new malware, so make sure you get your programs from a trusted source.

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