Tell Me About... False Positives

What are "false positives" and how can you protect yourself? Read all about it.
Published: Sep 7, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows
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False Positives

by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder

This question submitted by Brian Lennon, Susan Cline, Janis Knight,Bill Thomas, Latitia Henderson, and numerous others

Virus? Or No Virus?

Ever since the early days of computers there has always been talk about"false positives." There have been those who said that viruseswere written by hackers hired by the anti-virus companies to create athreat. A threat they could then stop. The same is now being said ofsome companies that put out software for spyware. This article isgoing to look at false positives and try to give you someguidelines.

Anti-virus programs detect viruses that are known and even those thatare not yet known. How they do this is by looking for code that iscommon in other viruses. Your antivirus program may not know thatprogram XYZ contains a virus, but it may think it has the code forone. It gives an alert and many people panic. They uninstall the programin question, post notes warming others, and send nasty notes to thecompany. The sad part is that often all of this is unnecessary becausethere is no virus.

Over the years I've personally had a number of programs that triggeredfalse positives with my antivirus program. If these had beenprograms that I'd just downloaded I might have been concerned, but ineach case these were programs I'd been using for years. I wrote thecompanies and told them what happened. In every case it was somenew coding they'd put in the program that had set off the antivirusprogram. Nothing malicious, just some code that the antivirus softwaredidn't like.

The problem for the small software developer is that most companies thatproduce anti-virus software are large and it takes time for them to fixthe issue. The small developer can be hurt by a false positiveespecially if people overreact. The key thing to remember is that if aprogram you've been using for some time suddenly sets off your antivirusprogram, the best thing to do is email the company. It may well be afalse positive. Don't panic! You don't want to compound the errorof the antivirus company by posting hurtful notes. Investigate. Remaincalm, and find out what's going on.

Is That Spyware?

I've gotten a lot of emails asking about spyware and anti-spywaresoftware. It seems there are a number of anti-spyware programs that seemto give false positives and it's believed they do so on purpose.These companies are counting on the fact that you won'tunderstand what you're looking at and if you see a long list ofinfections you'll buy their product to remove the threat. I'veevaluated some of these products myself and I think it's a shame thatsome companies stoop so low.

In poking around the Internet I found a number of sites where users werediscussing programs that trick you into buying. On one I found a listingof what they call rogue anti-spyware products. If you wish toview that you can click HERE!

The best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to alwaysdownload software from reputable sites, like Tucows. Sites thattest and evaluate all software that's submitted. Another way is to tryproducts that you see featured or reviewed. Programs that I'vepersonally evaluated and recommend include, in alphabetical order:

There will always be people who will prey on your fears andinsecurities. Such people exist in all fields of endeavor. Your bestdefense is knowledge. Research and test the programs that you buy. Arecent issue of Consumer Reports suggested that all people runtwo anti-spyware programs so they can double-check each other. Onthe Internet today, spyware is a bigger threat than viruses orworms. Don't be goaded by false positives into buying anyproduct.

I'd like to thank Brian Lennon, Susan Cline, Janis Knight,Bill Thomas, Latitia Henderson, and numerous others for askingthis question.

If you have a question on any technology topic that you'd like someoneto tell you about you can submit it via email by clicking HERE You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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