The Danger of Deleting Viruses

Nikole Haiar Nikole Haiar - March 03, 2015

deletevirusMany computer users are surprised to discover that, when your antivirus program eliminates virus threats from your computer, it does not actually remove the virus. Instead, it puts them into quarantine —still on your computer. Because of the connotations of the word “virus,” this may lead you to wonder if you should trust your antivirus program to keep things safe – or if you ever have to do anything about these quarantined viruses.

Why Quarantine?
So why does your antivirus program put infected files into quarantine? “Infected files” is your clue: a virus does not exist in isolation. It’s like getting a gob of chewing gum in your hair: it’s hard to get rid of the chewing gum without cutting off some of the hair. To get rid of the virus, you have to delete the infected file.

But your typical antivirus program cannot determine the significance of the infected file – it only can recognize the virus. What if it deletes a file that you need regularly? That’s why the antivirus takes infected files out of commission and leaves the deletion decision to you.

The other reason for putting files into quarantine is false alarms. Sometimes a perfectly harmless file looks like a virus carrier. If it’s automatically deleted, important programs could just stop working.

What Is Quarantine?
When an antivirus application puts an infected file into quarantine, it deletes the file from its original location. It’s no longer there and can no longer infect your computer. Then it makes changes to the file so that it cannot run as a program, and puts it in a hidden folder that other programs cannot see or access. It’s in a hidden, high-security jail.

How to Deal with Quarantined Files
You can simply ignore quarantined files. If you’re not sure how to proceed, it’s a safe option while you find out more.

Most modern viruses make their own files, which contain nothing but the virus waiting for an opportunity to infect your computer. If all your programs are running fine, and your system isn’t crashing, you can happily delete those files.

You may find files in quarantine that surprise you: files that have been on your computer a long time, or files that a program needs in order to run. These may be the victims of a false alarm.

If a program won’t run because a file is in quarantine, use your discretion before restoring it or adding it to exceptions. Read up about the suspected virus, and see if it makes sense. Very often, you can send that file to the support team behind your antivirus software, and they can check it out. If it is a false alarm, they can teach their antivirus program to recognize it.

A quarantined virus is perfectly harmless while in quarantine. It cannot run, and it’s well hidden. Human nature, of course, would prefer it entirely off the premises, so once you’re sure it’s not a file your computer needs — delete!

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