VirusTotal - Is the online malware scanner trustworthy?

With VirusTotal, Google offers an online service for scanning files malware infections at. You don't necessarily have to download and install VirusTotal as an app, you can use it directly in your browser. The big advantage is said to be that more than 70 anti-virus and anti-malware programs are used simultaneously to search for malware - from Bitdefender and Malwarebytes to G Data and Opera to McAfee and Microsoft Windows Defender. But Avast, AVG, Kaspersky, Tencent and other names that I personally wouldn't think of on Mac or PC are also included. There are also warnings against using VirusTotal with sensitive data.

What is VirusTotal?

VirusTotal is a free online service that allows users to upload suspicious files and scan them for malware or other malicious activity. The web service, owned by Google since 2012, uses a variety of antivirus engines and website scanning tools, among others, to analyze submitted files and links and determine whether or not they are malicious. 

The idea behind VirusTotal is that the collaboration of many security vendors helps to perform comprehensive analysis of files and get better results. Because if a threat is not listed by one service, it could be found by another. In addition, users do not have to buy and install the apps for the individual services. VirusTotal is freely available on the web.

The advantages of VirusTotal

  • Comprehensive analysis: VirusTotal uses a large number of antivirus engines and other security tools to detect a wide range of threats. This can help achieve a higher detection rate for malicious files, apps, and websites.
  • Community-based model: The service allows security professionals worldwide to contribute their analysis and insights, which can result in a stronger and more up-to-date database of threats.
  • Quick review: VirusTotal offers a (relatively) fast way to check suspicious files without having to install extensive security software on your device.

The concerns about VirusTotal

  • False alarms cannot be ruled out: Like all anti-malware engines, VirusTotal also has the potential for false positives, where harmless files are incorrectly reported as malicious. Of course, if it is an important file, this is not useful.
  • Transmission of Sensitive Data: Uploading files to VirusTotal could transmit sensitive information to the service. Although VirusTotal claims to protect this data, there is still some uncertainty. After all, tools from over 70 companies get access to the material.
  • Not always up to date: VirusTotal's detection rate depends on the antivirus engines used. If these engines are not updated regularly, the ability to detect newer threats may be limited.

BSI sees VirusTotal as an IT threat level 2

"During one incident it was discovered that [...] suspicious email attachments [...] partially automated uploaded to VirusTotal. In individual cases, the suspicious files were confidential internal documents. The contents of these files must be considered expired“, It says in one Entry from 2022 from the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). 

Attached to this notification is the PDF publication "Data leak in case of file checks at VirusTotal". The four-page document, which you can download from the linked BSI page, explains the case further and also describes how the "threat level 2" assigned to it is to be understood:

  • Threat level 1 / grey: The IT threat situation is at a consistently high level with no significant abnormalities.
  • Threat level 2 / yellow: IT threat situation with increased observation of abnormalities with temporary impairment of regular operations. 
  • Threat level 3 / Orange: The IT threat situation is business-critical. Massive impairment of regular operations.
  • Threat level 4 / red: The IT threat situation is extremely critical. Failure of many services, regular operation cannot be maintained.

Can VirusTotal be trusted?

VirusTotal can definitely be a useful way to check suspicious files and websites for malware. It offers a wide range of antivirus engines and security tools that can help in detecting threats. However, you should also keep in mind the potential downsides, including false positives and the potential disclosure of sensitive information. 

Website-derived and more generic downloads such as programs, archives, extensions, scripts, media, and so on may e.g. B. can be scanned without hesitation. VirusTotal also offers a URL scanner that determines whether the website to be accessed is clean. So if you don't pass on any personal data and files, company documents or the like, VirusTotal is a good and quick solution.

So, in terms of the term "trustworthy", my conclusion is: You can generally refer to the scan results for files and websites trust. I would recommend VirusTotal but not any private, secret or otherwise sensitive information the anvertrau. If I want e-mail attachments, company files, private photos, videos, documents and the like scanned, I would use a locally acting program.

Antivirus and anti-malware programs on Apple Mac

There are a wide variety of programs that can be installed locally and have the memory scanned for detecting and defending against malware. In addition, modern operating systems already have integrated mechanisms against malware - macOS on the Apple Mac, for example, brings the Gatekeeper and XProtect with. However, if you want to have individual files, documents and archives scanned again, you can use several services at the same time. On the Mac we recommend the programs for most applications CleanMyMac X and Malwarebytes.

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