Is Your Security Software Working?

Category: Security

You prudently downloaded a comprehensive security suite, installed it, and now your computer is protected from all online threats. Right? How can you know for sure that the security software is working? Here are some tips to test your security software...

How to Test Your Security Software

Most of a security suite's work is silent observation, watching for known threats trying to get into your computer or suspicious behavior that indicates an attack is being launched. How is a user supposed to tell if the security software is actually doing its job?

Smoke detectors have indicator lights that tell you they're working properly. So do most security suites, in the form of system tray icons or other indicators that literally tell you, if you hover the cursor over them, "your system is protected." A properly configured security suite will load with your operating system upon reboot. You should look for the "working" indicator each time you reboot your machine.

If the icon looks different, or has an exclamation point inside, your antivirus protection may be expired or out of date. Many new computers come with a trial version of McAfee, Norton or some other commercial security product. If you let the trial version expire, you may be unprotected until you pay the "ransom" and purchase a paid license for the software.
Test Your Security Software

Smoke detectors also have a "test button" you can press to set off the alarm briefly, proving that this vital function works. Something similar is available for antivirus programs: the EICAR virus signature test file. You can create this small file on your own and use it to test the virus-detecting function of antivirus software. Just copy the following string of text:


Paste the string into any text editor, such as Windows Notepad. Change the "A" at the beginning of the line to "X" then save the file as "TEST.EXE". If your antivirus software is working, the simple act of saving this test file should trigger a virus alert. But don't worry; the file is not an actual virus! It's simply a signature that most antivirus program developers include in their virus definition signatures databases specifically for testing purposes.

More Security Testing Tools

Another thing you can do to test the effectiveness of your security software is to run a standalone scanner such as MBAM or the new Microsoft Security Scanner. Both MBAM and Security Scanner will do a deep scan of the files on your hard drive, and alert you if any nasties are found. If something does turn up in the scan, you might consider switching to a new anti-virus program. See my article Free Anti-Virus Programs for some recommendations.

Security suites do more than scan for virus signatures. They also monitor and even close various ports that could give hackers access to your computer when it's connected to the Internet. There are tens of thousands of such ports, but most users need to use only a handful of them (like port 80, commonly used for Web access). To test the port monitoring features of your security suite, you can run a port scan.

SuperScan is a relatively easy-to-use port scanning utility. It will tell you which ports are open to strangers on the Internet, and what services are running on those ports. Then you can close unnecessary ports and services to seal off those potential lines of hacker attacks.

Even more advanced vulnerability testing utilities can find holes in your security setup that port scanning does not look for. Nessus is one such vulnerability testing application. A free version is available for non-commercial use.

It can be a lot of work to verify that your security software is working properly. Most people just rely on a security vendor's reputation and recommendations from friends or experts. But if you want to verify things for yourself, it's possible with these tools.

Do you have something to say about computer security tools? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Your Security Software Working?"

Posted by:

paul redfern
27 Apr 2011

i use NOD32 and in the nearly 4 years ive had it not a single bug of any kind has gotten past it. its not a freebie but well worth the money. google it and find out just how it compares to some of the crap programs for sale out there. ill keep my NOD32 over any other. tell your users they can get a full version for 30 days just to test it. its without a doubt the greatest ever.

Posted by:

D.W. Whitlock
27 Apr 2011

I'd like to suggest two sites users can visit and test the security vulnerabilities of their PCs for free. The first is It has a suite of several security tests you can run your computer through. The other is Leaktest at Both sites will tell you just how invisible (secure) your PC is or how visible (vulnerable) your computer is to the Internet after putting your computer through each of their several tests. For XP SP2 & SP3 users, the XP firewall only blocks inbound unauthorized traffic. It does not block outbound traffic which allows hackers to gain control of your PC. Vista does block inbound & outbound but for some reason the user must set the Vista firewall to block outbound as the default Vista setting only blocks inbound. I use the PC Tools Firewall Plus (free) on my XP SP3 laptop. My computer scored totally invisible (secure) to the internet on the tests. I have taken all the measures (changing settings, closing ports & turning off uneeded services) a user can do with an XP SP3 PC to secure it.

Comments Bob??

Posted by:

28 Apr 2011

I use Kaspersky Internet Security 2011. It detected your test virus. I think it is good to use Kaspersky than any other antivirus software. I think it's the best.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2011

Any thoughts about GRC's ShieldsUp scan? When I use my laptop running XP Pro and run the scan, all of the 1056 tested ports showed green (stealth) and my computer receives a passing grade for "TrueStealth Analysis". When I run the scan with my other laptop running Win 7 Pro (same ISP, DSL modem, fully patched, etc.) I get a fail because ports 1-103 are now showing closed rather than stealth.

Posted by:

29 Apr 2011

I saved file in notepad as "TEST.EXE" as suggested by you and scanned the same file, but showed "No Threats". I used CA free trial edition, as suggested by you.

I have a question. Some of your mails are received by me in my regular In Box. Some are received in Spam Folder. I am your subscriber. Why does this happen?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Did you change the A to X before saving? As for the spam folder problem, there is some collateral damage in the spam wars. It's important to whitelist the sender addresses for mail you DO want, and mark "Not Spam" when this happens, to train the filter.

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