What does not-a-virus alert mean?

Anton P. | September 9, 2021

A not-a-virus alert is a message antivirus solutions can present. Despite your instincts anticipating the worst, this situation is not as spooky or alarming. The gist is that your defense mechanisms report on activities that may or may not be acceptable. This statement might sound misleading, but not all suspicious programs are malicious or dangerous. In some cases, their operations trigger particular suspicions, like whether the user installed the program voluntarily. But the baseline is that the not-a-virus message is not as terrifying as you assume.

What does the not-a-virus message mean?

The not-a-virus message might pop up anytime during your daily digital activities. As you know, your antivirus or antimalware tools have one goal: to protect the integrity of your device. And while detecting ransomware is a big part of their job, sophisticated programs can detect more minor threats. Thus, not-a-virus alerts serve as informative warnings, flagging particular components as irregular.

Here are some basic details to know about the not-a-virus message:

  • It does not notify you of a malicious infection, severely threatening the security of your operations.
  • It does, however, report on activities that you might want to prevent.
  • Hence, while there is no need to panic upon receiving the not-a-virus notification, you should take heed.

What can cause the not-a-virus alert?

Specific threats that rank low on the severity scale get the not-a-virus label. It refers to programs that might not be the safest or transparent in their operation. However, their activities typically do not pose a direct threat.

For instance, there is no way to tip-toe around the fact that ransomware is malicious. However, if a program shows ads that, at times, are useful, the program can be convenient.

Such programs or attempts to install them might trigger the not-a-virus message. For instance, custom installers could compel you to get additional software. Thus, antivirus solutions might react to bundled installers. The latter operates on a grey area when it comes to legitimacy. On the one hand, users have a choice to opt out of setting up additional tools. On the other, the design of these installers makes it incredibly easy for users not to notice such conditions at all.

Applications that enter your system via questionable means are Potentially Unwanted Programs. From this point, further classification can apply as well. For example, the not-a-virus notification can report on adware or riskware. These two refer to programs that have valid aims that researchers may not view as malicious.

Let’s examine the programs that have been known to trigger the not-a-virus alert.

Not-a-virus program examples

Whether these programs trigger an alert depends on the antivirus software active in your device. Typically, antivirus creators prioritize the detection of more severe malware (worms, Trojans, ransomware). Hence, security tools might treat less harmful programs as a non-problem.

However, such applications can influence operating systems negatively, especially when it comes to security. Additionally, unnecessary and unwanted programs do eat up resources and can act questionably in other ways.

  • Adware. These ad-generating applications sound benign on paper. After all, it is software that generates revenue by displaying promotional content. However, it can act against certain ethics, like arriving at devices through deceptive means. For instance, it can enter via enabled-by-default installation options. Unless users unmark such selections, they will install them. Another risk is that adware can display low-quality material. For instance, it might expose users to pornographic content and fake alerts. Thus, while it is not-a-virus, its existence in an operating system can have harmful effects.
  • Riskware. These programs also do not deliberately compromise your device security. However, they can make it easier to harm it. For instance, riskware can refer to tools with unfixed vulnerabilities paving the way for hackers. Some programs can also be riskware for violating legal provisions, blocking updates for other programs, etc.
  • Potentially unwanted programs. The previous two examples can both belong in this category as well. However, there might be other reasons that trigger suspicions of a program being deceptive. Tools in this category can also travel via bundled installers. For instance, they might be rogue antivirus programs performing bogus scams and urging users to purchase premium versions. While they are not malicious, their existence is an unnecessary burden on your OS.

How can not-a-virus programs affect your OS?

There are certain warning signs that you can notice after a not-a-virus program has entered your system. Looking for these hints will help you detect potentially unwanted tools even if your antivirus software does not flag them.

  1. An increased number of online ads displayed throughout your browsing.
  2. Many unknown pop-ups appear to inform you of programs allegedly causing issues within your device. Such messages might also falsely congratulate you on winning prizes or supply life-changing ways to earn money.
  3. Bizarre programs appear out of nowhere. You might notice tools that you have not installed deliberately. Instead, they might be the result of a bundled installer.
  4. Devices become sluggish and take longer to perform even the simplest of tasks. Unnecessary programs can run in the background and consume resources. Thus, your OS will appear more unresponsive than usual.

What to do if you receive a not-a-virus alert?

First of all, do not panic: the not-a-virus alert does not mean that your device faces a severe threat. However, it should motivate you to look at the situation/program that an antivirus tool detects as suspicious. Here are some steps you can take to stay safe:

  • Read the terms of use and other conditions that you see during an installation process. It might explain the programs that a bundled installer might attempt to set up on your device.
  • If not-a-virus alerts are not convenient to you, antivirus software should have options to disable them. However, we recommend keeping it enabled. It is always best to stay informed of all threats menacing your device.
  • You should remove the tool antivirus detects as potentially alarming. Of course, legitimate programs can also end up flagged by security solutions. If this happens, take the time to review the application in question. You can browse for information online or contact the antivirus tool support team. They will likely answer your questions regarding such issues.
  • Say you want to keep a specific adware-like tool classified as not-a-virus. Atlas VPN has a solution to help you fend off fake alerts or dangerous ads. We offer an ad blocker, meaning that you won’t have to sit through endless streams of promotional content. Thus, you will not only protect your digital identity by encrypting internet traffic, but you will also block unnecessary ads.
Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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