How do you know if a website is safe or whether clicking a download link will lead to malware on your computer? Install a Chrome (and other browsers) extension and it tells you. Here’s how.
The internet is built on links – links to other websites and web pages, links to software, links to PDF and other document types, links to photos and videos, and so on.
The vast majority of these linked-to items are safe, but hidden among them are a few that are not and clicking an unknown link could take you to a website that has been hacked or has malware on it, or has been associated with undesirable or even illegal activities. Clicking a link to a file could download a malicious file that installs a virus or even encrypts all your files and demands a ransom to unlock them.
How do you protect against these threats? How can you tell if a link is OK or should be avoided?
Security software helps a lot of course and that is an essential tool to have. However, there are extra tools that can be useful for increasing your safety and security when using the internet and the VT4Browsers Chrome extension is one of these. It works with the VirusTotal website.
Although this extension is for Chrome and is in the Chrome Web Store, other Chrome-based browsers may be able to install them, such as Microsoft Edge.
What is VirusTotal?
VirusTotal is a website owned by Google and it enables websites and files to be scanned for malware. It is not a security product itself but it has access to over 70 of the most popular security products and services. A website URL or a file can be submitted to VirusTotal and it is tested against not one security product, but all of them!
The aim is to avoid false positives where one specific security program flags a file, app or website as malicious, but others do not. The result from every security product is shown and if 60+ say something is safe and 2 report it as malware, you can go with the majority decision and assume the 2 are false positives.
Check downloads with VT4Browsers
Go and get the free VT4Browsers extension for Chrome (Edge and other Chrome-based browsers). It adds an icon to the right side of the address box (click the jigsaw puzzle piece icon if you don’t see it), which when clicked, shows a settings panel. The options available determine what to do with downloads, such as ignoring documents like docx and pdf files, and pausing or allowing downloads when sending to VirusTotal.
When a download link is clicked on a web page, the default action is to simultaneously send the file being downloaded to the VirusTotal website as you download it. As soon as the download is finished or shortly after, a message pops up in the top right corner of the browser with a link to view a VirusTotal report.
Click the link and a new browser tab opens at the VirusTotal website and the report shows if any of the 70+ virus scanners have detected any problems with the downloaded file.
As you can see in the screenshot, this download was checked with 89 virus scanners and was passed as safe by every one of them. It is safe to install and the file is in the Downloads folder on the disk. Occasionally, two or even three virus scanners report a problem, but if 86 or 87 others say it is OK, you can dismiss them as false positives. They happen.
Check files before downloading
Suppose you see a download on a web page and you want to know whether it is safe or malware before you download it and before it gets anywhere near your computer. Right click the download link on the web page and select VT4Browsers > Scan selected link on the menu that is displayed. Here is an example:
The URL is sent to the VirusTotal website and it checks the download with all of its malware scanners. It only takes a few seconds and then a report is displayed on a new browser tab.
This time around, 90 security products we used to scan the file for malware and once again, none reported any problems. This file is safe and it can be downloaded in the usual way. It is good to test files before downloading.
In addition to checking file downloads, VT4Browsers can also check websites for malware too. Right click any link select VT4Browsers > Scan current page.
Using VT4Browsers and VirusTotal to check a website and file downloads and seeing a clean bill of health means that we can rest assured that if we go ahead and download the file, it is completely safe.
You should have security software on the computer of course, but that is just one opinion and it might either fail to detect malware or mistakenly report a safe file as malware. With VirusTotal the file was tested before it was downloaded and with 70+ products. If you have any doubt about a download, check it out!
Alternative download checkers
Virus Checker for Downloads is an alternative that performs a similar job – it checks downloads with VirusTotal and makes sure that they are safe by reporting the scans from 70+ antivirus programs.
After installing the extension in Chrome, an icon appears in the toolbar. Right click it and select Options to see a few settings. For example, the number of bad virus scans to trigger a warning. When the VirusTotal scans are run, it is not unusual to get one or two false positives, so you can say, only notify if there are more than three positives, for example. There is also a whitelist and images, audio, video and text files can be ignored.
It sounds good, but I could not tell if it was working. It gave no indication that a download was good or bad. I even tried downloading Anti Malware Testfile. Microsoft Defender Antivirus immediately recognized it and deleted it from the Downloads folder, but the Virus Checker for Downloads Chrome extension did not report anything. It did not appear to work on my computer.
Link Virus Check – Security Plus looks like the best alternative and it has some good reviews. First, you need to go to the VirusTotal website and sign up for a free public API key. Second, install the extension into Chrome or another Chrome based browser and enter your public API key. Then you can right click file download links and check them with VirusTotal.