Using real viruses for testing in the real world is rather like setting fire to the dustbin in your office to see whether the smoke detector is working. Such a test will give meaningful results, but with unappealing, unacceptable risks.
Since it is unacceptable for you to send out real viruses for test or demonstration purposes, you need a file that can safely be passed around and which is obviously non-viral, but which your anti-virus software will react to as if it were a virus.
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If your test file is a program, then it should also produce sensible results if it is executed. Also, because you probably want to avoid shipping a pseudo-viral file along with your anti-virus product, your test file should be short and simple, so that your customers can easily create copies of it for themselves.
The good news is that such a test file already exists. A number of anti-virus researchers have already worked together to produce a file that their (and many other) products "detect" as if it were a virus.
Agreeing on one file for such purposes simplifies matters for users: in the past, most vendors had their own pseudo-viral test files which their product would react to, but which other products would ignore.
The Anti-Malware Testfile
This test file has been provided to EICAR for distribution as the "EICAR Standard Anti-Virus Test File", and it satisfies all the criteria listed above. It is safe to pass around, because it is not a virus, and does not include any fragments of viral code. Most products react to it as if it were a virus (though they typically report it with an obvious name, such as "EICAR-AV-Test").
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