Running antivirus software will give you peace of mind knowing that your computer is protected from malware. It will regularly scan your computer’s storage drive for infected files. There are different types of antivirus software, but most of them leverage a signature database. Each unique piece of malware has a signature. When scanning your computer’s storage drive, the antivirus software will look for these signatures. But you may experience false positives during these scans.

What Are False Positives?

False positives are exactly what they sound like: erroneous warnings indicating that your computer is infected with a virus or other form of malware.

After completing a scan, antivirus software will typically display the results. You may notice a pop-up message stating that no infected files or “threats” were detected. Alternatively, the pop-up message may state that one or more infected files were detected. When antivirus software wrongfully identifies legitimate and safe files as being malicious and infected, it’s considered a false positive.

What Causes False Positives?

False positives are the result of some type of error. They occur when antivirus software wrongfully flags an otherwise legitimate and safe file — or a link when using the internet — as being malicious and infected.

Most antivirus software use signature-based scanning methods, but they’ve evolved in recent years to include other detection methods. In addition to signatures, some of them look for behaviors or patterns. Antivirus software that uses a combination of multiple detection methods may experience false positives. False positives are more common when multiple detection methods are used. Regardless, all false positives are the result of some type of error with the antivirus software’s detection process.

How to Prevent False Positives

Some antivirus software products are more likely to trigger false positives than others. If you’re constantly receiving false positives, you may want to try using a different antivirus software product.

Regardless of which antivirus software product you use, make sure it’s up to date. All antivirus software products require updating. Developers will release new versions of them, and they’ll update their products with new signature databases. Running an outdated version of your preferred antivirus software product will increase the risk of both real threats and fake threats, such as false positives.

False positives are frustrating. They may lead you to believe that your computer is infected with malware when it really has a clean bill of digital health. By using the right antivirus software product — and by keeping it updates — you can prevent false positives from happening.