There aren’t too many things worse than downloading a file or visiting a website that’s been infested with viruses or malware. Even if you’re using an operating system like Linux or Mac OS X, which tend to have fewer exploits written for them, you can still download something with a virus and then pass it on to a Windows user. I mainly use Linux, and have to admit to having never really used any type of anti-virus program for any length of time. After weeks of never getting a hit, I came to the conclusion that the sites I visit and the files I download just aren’t targets. Still, it is a good idea to have some type of safety net. Enter a fantastic Firefox extension (that works for Windows users as well as Mac and Linux), that can scan any link for website or file, and scan it for anything suspicious.
The extension uses Virus Total, a website which uses more than 40 different virus and malware scanners, and points all of them at whatever link you provide. Doing so greatly lessens the risk that your favorite anti-virus program might miss something that another would catch, and reduces the risk of your computer “catching” something.
Once you’ve installed the extension (available from the Virus Total website), you can use it a couple different ways. Along with the extension, a toolbar is installed which has options to scan the web page you’re currently on, as well as to search its database. I’m not sold on installing a toolbar with only those two options, but happily it can be hidden. And in reality, you’re not missing much with it gone. The search feature can easily be accomplished directly from the Virus Total website, and if you’re concerned about a particular website, it might be a better course of action to scan it from a Google search web page, before actually visiting it.
Still, if you’re on a website and are considering downloading a file or program you think might be suspicious, or just to make sure there’s nothing sketchy going on, right-click on the link to the download, and choose the Scan With Virus Total option. You’ll be taken to the VirusTotal website, where you will see a full list of the results from each of the 40+ virus and malware scanners. If the link shows up clean, it’s a pretty safe bet that there is no danger involved in downloading. Even if you forget to scan the link before clicking download, you’re not out of luck, because VTzilla adds an entry to Firefox’s standard download dialog, asking you if you’d like to scan the link first.
I’m a fan of this extension. In reality there’s nothing it does that you can’t do from the VirusTotal website, but this saves a step. And frankly, because once the extension is installed the feature is right there at hand, I’m much more likely to use it, compared to needing to first navigate to the VirusTotal website and then paste in the link. VTzilla makes it a lot simpler and more convenient, and so I’d recommend giving it a look.