Downloading files from the internet is convenient, but it’s crucial to check if a download is safe to prevent malware from infecting your device and compromising your data.

In this article, I’ll provide the necessary steps to check if a download is secure. Also, after extensive tests, I’ve picked out multiple antiviruses that help safeguard your system against downloaded malware. Each app I’ve picked offers airtight security due to excellent malware detection rates and features like built-in VPNs and web protection.

Among my top choices, Norton stands out as the best overall antivirus. It offers flawless 100% malware detection rates and secures you against downloading malware with its web protection, firewall, and real-time security. Additionally, you can try Norton completely risk-free as it’s backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee.

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  1. Download files from trusted sources. Always download files from trustworthy websites. Also, look for “https” and a padlock next to the URL to check whether a site is safe.
  2. Check file extensions. Ensure the files you download have the extension they’re supposed to. For example, a pdf file ending in “pdf.exe” is likely malware.
  3. Verify the file’s hash. Compare the hashes of the files you downloaded to the ones provided by the developer to verify their authenticity.
  4. Scan the downloaded files. Scan your downloaded files with an antivirus to see if they have malware. I suggest you use Norton to scan downloaded files because of its flawless malware detection rate.
  5. Do a full scan of your system. Use your antivirus to do a full scan and find any leftover malware, especially if you’ve opened a suspicious download already.

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Step 1: Download From a Secure and Trusted Source

The first step in securing yourself against downloaded malware is to get files from a trusted source and avoid suspicious or unknown websites. Stick to reputable sources such as the app or software’s official website.

Of course, it also helps if you’re downloading from a secure website. Check for the padlock and HTTPS protocol in the URL bar to verify a website’s security.

Screenshot showing HTTPS in Norton's URL

Step 2: Check Your Download’s File Extension

The next step is to check the file extension. Malware often disguises itself by using a file extension similar to a legitimate file type.

For example, a malicious file may have an extension of “.pdf.exe” instead of “.pdf.” In this example, the real extension is actually “.exe”, so double-check the file extension and ensure it matches the file type you intended to download.

Screenshot showing a suspicious PDF file that ends with the .exe file extension

Do not run the file if its extension isn’t exactly what you meant to download. It’s likely malware that can infect your system.

Step 3: Verify Your Downloaded File’s Hash

Comparing hashes also lets you verify the integrity of a file. You can ensure that a file has not been tampered with by comparing its hash value with the value provided by the software developer

To check the hash value, you can use an online tool like’s calculator.

Screenshot showing the hash of a setup file

If your file’s hash matches the one provided by the developer, your file is authentic. However, avoid running the file if the hashes don’t match, as it’s likely been tampered with and could contain malware.

Step 4: Scan the Downloaded Files With a Top Antivirus

The next step in checking whether a download has malware is scanning it using a top antivirus. I suggest you use Norton to scan your files as it finds and removes all threats with its 100% malware detection rate.

 Screenshot showing how to scan specific files in Norton using the context menu

Remove/quarantine any files your antivirus flags as malicious and proceed to the next step.

Step 5: Do a Full Scan of Your System

The last step to ensuring you don’t have any downloaded malware left on your system is to do a full scan. To do this, open Norton and click the drop-down menu next to Device Security to bring up its available scans.

Screenshot showing how to access Norton's list of scans

Choose the Full Scan from Norton’s available scans and click on Go to check your entire system for malware.

Screenshot showing how to start Norton's Full Scan

Remove or quarantine any threats detected in the Full Scan and click on Finish to complete the process.

Screenshot showing the results of Norton's Full Scan and how to finish it

That’s all you need to do. The above steps let you check if a download has malware and let you remove it from your system in case you get infected.

1. Norton — Flawless Malware Detection Blocks Malicious Downloads and Removes Any Existing Threats

Key Features:

  • 100% real-time malware detection blocks all malicious downloads.
  • VPN with industry-standard encryption to keep you safe online.
  • Up to 250GB of cloud storage (in the US) for sensitive files.
  • 24/7 live chat, phone support, and a helpful online knowledge base.
  • 60-day money-back guarantee.

Norton reliably removes downloaded malware and other cyber threats from your system. Its industry-leading malware detection through scans and against zero-day malware ensures maximum protection. Also, Norton offers many additional features to provide extra layers of security against all kinds of threats.

I tested Norton’s ability to detect malware in downloads and found it highly effective. It blocked all the malware samples I tried to download while removing 100% of the existing threats on my test system via its scans. Norton’s Quick Scan took only 2 minutes, and the Full Scan took under 20 minutes to scan my entire computer. Also, Norton doesn’t flag any false positives, thus making it a reliable security app to check downloads for malware.

Image of Norton's Quick Scan results.

Norton’s scans are fast and accurately detect malware

To protect all your online activity and secure your downloads, Norton includes the following features:

  • Web Protection — blocks malicious websites and downloads while browsing.
  • Built-in VPN — secures your online activity and protects your privacy.
  • Firewall — a customizable first line of defense against most cyber threats.
  • Dark Web Monitoring — alerts you if your passwords or personal information are leaked on the dark web.
  • Software Updater — automatically updates your apps and software to ensure you have the latest security patches and features.

Norton also includes a SafeCam feature that blocks unauthorized webcam access. Downloaded malware can give attackers access to your webcam’s feed, but SafeCam prevents this from happening and keeps you safe.

You’ll also get excellent customer support with this security app. Norton offers 24/7 live chat, phone support, and a detailed knowledge base with helpful information. I tested its live chat several times and always connected to an agent within 1 or 2 minutes. Plus, the agents were knowledgeable and provided quick solutions to my problems.

Norton offers multiple affordable price plans starting at just $9.99/year. It’s worth noting that some features available in its plans will vary depending on your region. So, while you’ll get its excellent core antivirus regardless of where you live, some things like cloud storage and ID theft protection might vary. The plans include the following:

  • Antivirus Plus — the basic plan that protects 1 device with Norton’s core antivirus features, 2GB of cloud storage, and password manager.
  • 360 Standard — protects up to 3 devices and offers Norton’s built-in VPN and Dark Web Monitoring besides the features in Antivirus Plus.
  • 360 Deluxe — includes Norton’s Privacy Monitor and parental controls, protection for up to 5 devices, 50GB of cloud storage (in the US), and everything in 360 Standard.
  • 360 Select — provides all 360 Deluxe’s features, 250GB of cloud storage (in the US), Norton’s ID theft protection, and protection for up to 10 devices.

All plans are well-priced, but I found that Norton’s $49.99/year plan offers the best value. It lets you protect multiple devices and offers all of Norton’s critical security features. Best of all, you can try Norton risk-free regardless of your plan because it has a 60-day money-back guarantee. When I requested a refund via live chat, the agent confirmed it immediately, and I had my money back just 5 days later.

Download safely with Norton

2. McAfee — Detects All Malicious Downloads and Secures Against Cyber Threats With Its Customizable Firewall

Key Features:

  • Detects and blocks 100% of real-time threats, including malware downloads.
  • Safeguards against cyber threats with a customizable firewall.
  • Built-in VPN for online security and anonymity.
  • 24/7 live chat, phone support, and community forums.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee.

McAfee provides comprehensive protection against downloaded malware and other cyber threats. Among its standout features is the secure firewall, which provides an effective layer of security against cyber threats. Also, you can customize the firewall’s settings to block certain types of traffic, limit access to specific apps, and more.

Screenshot of McAfee's intuitive firewall interface

McAfee’s firewall offers multiple ways to customize its settings

During my tests, I found that McAfee detected 100% of downloaded malware and blocked all malicious files I tried to download on my test system. However, it can highlight some false positives, meaning McAfee isn’t as reliable as Norton. Also, McAfee’s Full Scan can take up to an hour to scan your entire system, which is much longer than Norton’s 20-minute-long Full Scan.

In addition, McAfee offers several other features to provide extra layers of protection against cyber threats, including:

  • WebAdvisor — protects your system while browsing by blocking malicious websites and downloads.
  • Secure VPN — encrypts your online activity and keeps you anonymous.
  • Password Manager — stores and encrypts your passwords to keep them safe from cybercriminals.
  • Tracker Remover — removes cookies, trackers, and other files that can build a profile by monitoring your online activity.

I also like McAfee’s File Shredder feature that lets you delete sensitive files you don’t want anyone else to access. File Shredder lets you shred files up to 10 times, thus ensuring they’re completely inaccessible afterward.

McAfee also offers helpful customer support that’s available whenever you need help. You can get help via 24/7 live chat, phone support, and community forums. The live chat and phone support agents are slow to connect, but they’re responsive once you get in touch. Also, McAfee’s community forums are a great place to get help for specific problems from experts.

There’s a range of plans you can choose from if you decide to get McAfee. Starting at just $39.99/year, these include the following:

  • Total Protection Plus — McAfee’s core antivirus with added features such as firewall, web protection, and File Shredder. It covers up to 5 devices.
  • McAfee+ Premium — includes all the features of Total Protection Essential and McAfee’s Personal Data Cleanup scans. Also, it offers protection for 10 devices.
  • McAfee+ Advanced — includes everything in Premium, plus McAfee’s full-service Personal Data Cleanup, monthly credit reports, lost wallet protection, and $1 million ID theft coverage.
  • McAfee+ Ultimate — the top-tier plan, with all the features of Advanced plus daily credit reports, McAfee’s credit lock, and $25,000 ransomware coverage.

For the best value, I suggest getting McAfee’s $39.99/year plan, as it provides all the app’s key security features at a great price. Plus, you can try McAfee risk-free because it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee. I asked for a refund via a short phone call, which was approved immediately, and I had my money back after 7 business days.

Download safely with McAfee

3. TotalAV — Optimizes System Performance While Securing You Against Malicious Downloads

Key Features:

  • Effective real-time security blocks malicious downloads.
  • Includes a VPN to protect your online privacy and security.
  • Has optimization tools to improve computer performance.
  • WebShield safeguards your system against online threats.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee.

TotalAV is a reliable antivirus solution that protects against malware, viruses, and other online threats. In addition to keeping your computer safe from malicious downloads, TotalAV optimizes your system’s performance, thus making it run more smoothly.

TotalAV’s virus scans were highly effective and removed 100% of downloaded malware in my tests, including ransomware, spyware, adware, and trojans. Also, TotalAV’s real-time security secures your system against 99% of zero-day malware and immediately blocks malicious file downloads. Unfortunately, TotalAV’s real-time protection flags some legitimate files as malicious, meaning its results aren’t flawless like Norton’s.

Screenshot of TotalAV's quarantine feature showing all hidden malware test files were detected and quarantined.

TotalAV offers multiple virus scans that catch all malware

What makes TotalAV stand out is its variety of optimization tools. I especially like TotalAV’s Smart Scan, which finds multiple ways to optimize device performance. After scanning my system, Smart Scan cleared over 1GB of space, deleted many tracking cookies, and removed duplicate files. All these optimizations delivered a noticeable boost to my computer’s speed.

Besides its reliable malware detection and removal capabilities, TotalAV offers several features for additional security, including:

  • Web Shield — blocks malicious websites and downloads to keep you safe online.
  • Password Vault — securely stores and auto-fills all of your passwords.
  • Ad Blocker — eliminates unwanted ads and pop-ups from your browser.

TotalAV also has a Data Breach Test that safeguards your sensitive information by scanning the dark web for your email, card details, and more. This feature alerts you whenever your information is compromised or if it was leaked in past breaches, thus letting you change it.

While TotalAV’s plans get more expensive when you have to renew them, they start at just $19.00/year. Its plans include the following:

  • Antivirus Pro — protects up to 3 devices with TotalAV’s core antivirus, real-time security, optimization tools, and web protection.
  • Internet Security — offers the features in Antivirus Pro, adds TotalAV’s Safe Browsing VPN, and protects up to 5 devices.
  • Total Security — has TotalAV’s Total Adblock and password manager, all of Internet Security’s features, and protects up to 6 devices.

I consider TotalAV’s $39.00/year plan the best value because it provides all of TotalAV’s core security features at a great price. Plus, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, meaning you can try TotalAV risk-free. If you’re unsatisfied, you can ask for a refund. When I requested a refund after testing this app, I had my money back in just 2 days, even though the agent said it could take up to 7.

Download safely with TotalAV

4. iolo — Stops Any Malicious Downloads and Keeps You Safe With Its Real-Time Security

Key Features:

  • Effective Windows-only antivirus that detects 100% of malware via scans.
  • Highly intuitive apps that are easy to navigate and use.
  • Privacy Guardian stops websites from tracking your browsing activity.
  • Multiple tools to optimize system performance.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee.

iolo is a user-friendly antivirus that offers reliable protection against downloaded malware. This app focuses a lot on ease of use, and its interface is intuitive and straightforward, thus making it easy for users of all levels to navigate and utilize.

Screenshot of iolo's Windows app user interface

It’s easy to navigate through iolo’s interface and use its features

In all my tests, iolo’s virus scans detected 100% of the malware samples I downloaded on my system. Its Quick Scan is particularly impressive, taking just a few minutes to scan crucial system areas. However, its Deep Scan takes over an hour to scan your entire computer. In contrast, Norton takes under 20 minutes to complete its Full Scan.

In addition, iolo includes many other features that make it an all-in-one security solution. These include:

  • Privacy Guardian — blocks tracking cookies and other forms of online tracking, keeping your online activity private and secure.
  • Drive Scrubber — securely erases data from your hard drive, thus ensuring no one else can recover and access it.
  • System Guard — stops unauthorized programs from changing your web browser settings.

Moreover, iolo includes an All-in-One PC Cleanup tool that helps to keep your computer running smoothly. When I tested it, iolo’s All-in-One PC Cleanup found multiple junk files to delete and other optimizations that helped make my system run faster. You’ll also get other optimization tools, including the following:

  • Startup Manager — speeds up your PC’s boot time by controlling which programs launch when you start your computer.
  • Disk Defragmenter — optimizes system performance by defragmenting your drives.

iolo provides several plans, starting at just $49.95/year. Its plans include the following:

  • Malware Killer — iolo’s basic plan with on-demand malware detection and removal to keep your computer secure from various threats.
  • System Shield — offers iolo’s real-time security with its malware scanner.
  • System Mechanic — provides advanced security updates and network protection to keep your system running smoothly and securely.
  • System Mechanic Pro — includes all the features of System Mechanic plus iolo’s DriveScrubber, Search and Recover, and System Shield.
  • System Mechanic Ultimate Defense — offers iolo’s Malware Killer, Privacy Guardian, password manager, and all the features in System Mechanic Pro for comprehensive protection.

Of all available options, I consider iolo’s $25.09/year plan the best overall value, as it includes all of iolo’s key security features. Additionally, you can try iolo risk-free with its 30-day money-back guarantee. After finishing my tests, I requested a refund via email and had my money back within 3 days.

Download safely with iolo

5. Bitdefender — Offers Excellent Web Protection, Real-Time Protection, and Other Features to Protect Against Malicious Downloads

Key Features:

  • Blocks 99.7% of real-time threats and stops you from downloading malicious files.
  • Multiple features, including web protection, a built-in VPN, and more.
  • Secure and customizable firewall for added safety.
  • SafePay lets you securely bank and shop online.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee.

Bitdefender offers comprehensive protection against various types of downloaded malware and has numerous features to ensure maximum security. Among its key security features are the following:

  • Web Protection — blocks malicious websites and downloads while browsing.
  • VPN — encrypts your traffic and provides anonymity online.
  • Password Manager — securely stores and manages your passwords.
  • File Shredder — permanently deletes sensitive files and folders.
  • Anti-phishing — detects and blocks fraudulent websites that may steal your personal information.

Screenshot of Bitdefender blocking phishing threat

Bitdefender’s web protection effectively blocks phishing attacks

During my tests, Bitdefender’s virus scans were highly effective at detecting downloaded malware. Its Quick Scan feature can quickly scan your system’s critical areas, while the Full Scan thoroughly checks your entire system for threats. Bitdefender also offers real-time security that blocks 99.7% of malware. Unfortunately, it’s not on par with Norton’s 100% real-time detection rate, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Bitdefender also provides a customizable firewall that lets you set rules for inbound and outbound traffic. It gives you full control over your computer’s network activity, but it’s also pre-configured to provide excellent security if you don’t change its settings.

I found Bitdefender’s plans worthwhile because of the app’s top-grade security and impressive feature variety. Starting at just $19.99/year, it offers the following plans:

  • Antivirus Plus — basic protection for 1 Windows device with Bitdefender’s core antivirus features.
  • Internet Security — protects up to 3 Windows devices with parental controls, Privacy Firewall, and everything in Antivirus Plus.
  • Total Security — provides security for up to 5 devices on all platforms with everything in Internet Security, optimization tools, and 200MB/day VPN.
  • Premium Security — offers unlimited VPN usage, a password manager, protection for up to 10 devices, and everything in Total Security.
  • Ultimate Security — includes Bitdefender’s ID monitoring besides everything in Premium Security.

I suggest getting Bitdefender’s $35.99/year plan for the best value and thorough security. Nonetheless, you can try Bitdefender risk-free regardless of the plan you get, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee. I asked for a refund via email when I finished testing the app, and I got my money back within 5 days of my request.

Download safely with Bitdefender

Keeping the following tips in mind will help ensure you don’t download malware from the web:

Use Antivirus Software

Installing a top antivirus can help protect you from malware. Antiviruses scan any files you download on the fly and alert you if it detects any threats. Plus, the best antiviruses provide features like web protection, firewalls, and built-in VPNs for added security.

Download From Reputable Sources

Always download files from trusted sources. If you’re unsure about a website or file, do some research before downloading. You can check reviews or ratings or do a quick Google search to see if anyone has reported any issues with the website or file.

Check the File Extension

Malware is often disguised as a legitimate file type, such as a PDF or JPEG. Check the file extension to ensure it is what it’s supposed to be. For example, a file named “image.jpg.exe” is not a real image file and should be avoided.

Look for HTTPS

Try and download files from websites that use HTTPS instead of HTTP. HTTPS encrypts data and secures the connection between your web browser and a website. You can check for HTTPS by looking at the website’s URL to see if it starts with “https” instead of “http.”

Verify File Hashes

File hashes are unique identifiers you can use to confirm the authenticity and integrity of a file. It’s a large number that will be identical if an attacker hasn’t modified the file, but it will completely change if a file is modified. After downloading a file, check your download’s hash against the hash provided by the software developer. If the hashes match, the file is legitimate, and you can use it without issues.

Malware Detection via Scans Real-Time Malware Detection Built-in VPN Cloud Storage Money-Back Guarantee
Norton 100% 100% 60 days
McAfee 100% 100% 30 days
TotalAV 100% 99% 30 days
iolo 100% Tests Underway 30 days
Bitdefender 100% 99.7% 30 days

Secure your system with Norton

I ranked the best antiviruses for finding malware in downloads based on the following criteria:

  • Real-time protection — I picked antiviruses with effective real-time security to identify and block malicious downloads.
  • Malware detection rates — I looked for antiviruses with high malware detection rates to remove existing malware from your system.
  • Web protection — I chose antiviruses with web protection, which adds an extra layer of security against malicious websites and online threats.
  • Ease of use — I picked antiviruses with intuitive interfaces to easily scan and check downloads.
  • Customer support — I looked for antiviruses with responsive support that’s available to help whenever needed.
  • Value for money — I chose antiviruses with affordable price plans offering excellent value.
  • Money-back guarantee — Lastly, I picked antiviruses with a money-back guarantee so you can try them risk-free before committing.

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How to download files safely?

Installing a top antivirus is the best way to ensure you download files safely. However, the following tips will also help you avoid malicious files:

  • Use reputable sources. Only download files from trustworthy websites with good reputations.
  • Check file extensions. Ensures the files you download have the proper extensions. For example, a jpg file ending with ‘jpg.exe’ is likely malware.
  • Look for HTTPS. Download files from websites with HTTPS instead of HTTP in their URL for added security.
  • Confirm file hashes. Confirm that the hash of the file you’re downloading matches the hash provided by the developer.

What could happen if I download an unsafe file?

Downloading an unsafe file could infect your device with malware or viruses that can harm your system, even with Windows’ built-in protection. So you should use reliable antivirus software and be cautious when downloading files to protect your device.

Malware can also slow down your device, cause crashes, and display annoying pop-ups or ads. In some cases, hackers can even take control of your device remotely and use it for malicious purposes.

Can a good antivirus protect me from unsafe files?

Yes, a good antivirus can secure your system against unsafe files. All the top antiviruses I’ve picked can protect you with their 100% malware detection rates via scans and effective real-time security. Plus, they include other features like built-in VPNs and web protection to provide additional layers of security to keep you from downloading unsafe files.

Of all my top choices, I consider Norton the best overall security app. It offers flawless 100% malware detection via scans and in real time. Plus, Norton offers many extra security features that we’ve covered in our in-depth review.

Is downloading PDF files safe?

Downloading PDF files is usually safe if you take precautions and download them from trusted sources. PDF files are commonly used for sharing documents but can also have malware. To ensure their safety, download PDFs from reputable websites, scan them with antivirus software, and also avoid clicking suspicious links or pop-ups.

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Downloading files from the internet can be risky, so you should check if a downloaded file is safe before opening it. Various methods let you confirm the safety of the downloaded files, including verifying hashes, checking the file’s source, and verifying the file’s extension.

However, malware can slip through undetected sometimes because no method is 100% bulletproof, so installing a reliable antivirus on your computer is crucial. The apps I’ve picked above offer excellent protection, but Norton stands out as the best antivirus. It provides comprehensive protection against all malware, viruses, and other cyber threats.

Norton’s 100% malware detection and variety of advanced security features ensure protection against downloaded malware. Also, its real-time security and features like web protection prevent future infections by blocking malicious downloads. Best of all, you can try Norton completely risk-free as it’s backed by a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.

Summary — Best Antivirus in 2023 To Detect and Eliminate Malware From Downloads

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