Understanding False Positives in Antivirus Software

It’s undeniable that the internet has revolutionized the way that we live our lives. The digital world gives us access to a wealth of information and enables us to shop online, watch viral videos, and communicate with others via email, direct messaging, and video call no matter where they are in the world. 

However, the internet has also exposed us to new dangers that threaten our online safety. Web threats such as malware, ransomware, phishing scams, DDoS attacks, and computer viruses can happen when you least expect them. And when you have nothing to defend yourself with against these crimes, cybercriminals can steal your personal information, know your location, and more. As such, using antivirus software has become ever more paramount.

Simply put, antivirus software is a program that’s designed to prevent and eliminate various types of malicious software. It does this by scanning your entire device and detecting programs and files it deems are threats. With a robust program, you can enjoy antivirus for secure browsing, gaining greater security and peace of mind. Nevertheless, there are times when an antivirus software flags certain files or programs as false positives after running a scan. 

But what exactly are false positives? Should you be concerned about them? Let’s take a closer look at what false positives are so that you’d know what to do when you encounter them. 

What Is a False Positive?

False positives occur when your antivirus software mistakenly flags legitimate files and programs as malicious. The reasons why this happens can stem from several sources, but some of the most common include:

  • Heuristic Analysis: Antivirus programs that use heuristic-based detection are designed to spot suspicious characteristics in new and modified versions of existing threats. Some legitimate files exhibit some of the behaviors that match those of actual malware, leading the antivirus software to flag them as threats.
  • Code Similarities: When antivirus programs scan your device, they look for codes that match those found in known malware signatures. This makes the detection of well-known threats easier and faster. However, some of the string of codes in malware software can also be found in secure programs. As a result, antivirus programs can accidentally flag them as malicious.
  • Uncommon Behavior: If programs are showing unusual behavior or acting similarly to popular malware files, they can seem suspicious to antivirus programs. Thus, to ensure your safety, the software flags them regardless.
  • New or Unrecognized Software: Antivirus software might be cautious when it scans new or lesser-known software, raising alerts even if the software is harmless.

What do I do When My Antivirus Software Detects a False Positive?

Since false positive files are secure and legitimate, there’s no need to panic when your antivirus shows them to you. However, constantly receiving them after every scan can be a bothersome sight and disrupt your digital routine. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to handle false positives. 

Review and Verify the Sources

After the scan, carefully read the alert your antivirus software sent you and note the names and locations of each file or program that it flagged. You should also note the reason for detection to understand better why your software thinks they’re suspicious. Next, check the origins of the flagged items. If they’re from trusted sources, then you can dismiss them from being possible threats.

Quarantine or Whitelist Files

If you’re uncertain about the flagged item, you can quarantine it temporarily. This isolates the item from the rest of your system, preventing any potential harm. However, if you’re confident that the file or program is legitimate, you can whitelist them and be excluded from future scans.

Research the Detection

Look up the specific detection name that your antivirus program provides. If it’s a commonly reported issue, you might find an effective solution on the vendor’s website or user forums.

Use Different Antivirus Programs

Getting one or two more reputable antivirus programs might seem excessive, but if you want to be 100% sure that the false positives are harmless, having additional antivirus software will bring you peace of mind. Not all antivirus programs use the same scanning and detection processes, so if multiple antivirus engines do not detect the false positives as malicious, you’ll know your device is entirely safe from web threats.

Update Your Antivirus Program

Outdated definitions or detection algorithms can sometimes lead to false positives and even fail to flag real threats. As such, a simple update can solve constant negative issues and strengthen your web security.

Report to Vendor

If you’re confident the item is a false positive, report it to the antivirus software vendor. Sending reports will help vendors improve their software’s detection accuracy, providing you with better service.

Now that you’re more knowledgeable about false positives, there’s no need to raise the alarm when your antivirus software detects them. However, staying vigilant’s still in your best interest when dealing with them. Your antivirus program is designed to protect you from suspicious files and software that can come from malicious online activities. Thus, you can treat your antivirus software’s behavior of flagging false positives as a precautionary measure.