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An internet connection is not required for anti-malware scans and backups, but it is required to keep your software up-to-date.

When I'm carrying out my routine anti-virus scans and also my routine backing up, should the PC be online?

In this excerpt from Answercast #99 I look at why a computer may need to be online when performing virus scans and backup.

Internet connection for anti-malware scans

That's actually an interesting question. It's interesting in the sense that the answer's actually both yes and no.

Here's what's important - your anti-malware tools (which I hope includes both anti-virus and anti-spyware), they need to be online at some point. They need to be online so that they can receive the updates they need to be current and stay on top of all the most recently released malware.

They don't necessarily have to be online during the scan as long as they were able to get their updated database. As long as they've got the updated database, once that's in place, then the computer can be offline and it can scan all you want. It really shouldn't be an issue.

Updating the malware database

But, the problem of course is understanding when those two separate steps happen. Some anti-virus tools will actually do them both at the same time when they start their regularly scheduled scan. They start by connecting to the remote site and getting the database download before they do the scan.

If those two steps can't be separated, then ultimately you really need to leave the computer connected to the internet in order for the anti-malware scan to run. Not for the scan for itself to run but to make sure that it's running with the most current information possible.

Performing a backup

Now, as far as the backup is concerned, it doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be connected to backup if you're backing up to an external drive.

If you're backing up to an online service, well obviously, you need to be online - but if you're backing up to an external drive or to some other place on your local network, then it doesn't really matter whether you're connected to the internet or not.

Once again, however, the backup software itself might like to check to see if there are new versions every so often.

For example, in my case, I run Macrium Reflect and I run it automatically every night. It does its thing. Yes, I'm connected to the internet but that's neither here nor there. What is important is that every once and awhile I should manually run Macrium Reflect. I just need to bring it up. That's when it does its new version check; that's when it tells me, "Hey, there's a new version of the software available. Do you want to download it and install it?" And I do.

But to actually perform the backup? No. No internet is required.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6362 - March 24, 2013 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
March 26, 2013 1:04 PM

If you're using anything like Panda Cloud Antivirus Free you NEED to be on-line. There are on-line scanners you can use that don't need to be installed. Just go to their website and jump through their hoops and they'll scan you. The neat thing about these is their anti-malware database's are huge and constantly updated and you don't have to download/update anything. The very. very minor downside (IMO) is you have to be on-line and go there. Mind you, these types won't PROTECT you from threats but are really good at detection.

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