What Is the Meaning of Quarantine in Anti-virus?

By Brian Hooper

Quarantining an object with anti-virus software is similar to quarantining an individual who has contracted something contagious and possibly dangerous. In both cases, the target is removed from the greater population so it can’t do any kind of damage. Just about any kind of worthwhile anti-virus product available has a quarantine feature. When you run a scan, the anti-virus software will generally put some questionable items on a separate list identified as quarantined items.

The Facts

An anti-virus product isn’t programmed to broadly assume that every file it finds that looks like a virus and acts like a virus is in fact a virus. For that reason, it doesn’t automatically delete every potentially malicious file indiscriminately, but it does prevent it from running on your system until further notice. Further notice would be your telling the anti-virus product what to do with potentially dangerous files. Until then, the product keeps the files in a separate holding area.

Quarantine vs. Removal

The difference between quarantining a file and removing it is that quarantining simply holds a file that could have adverse effects on your system. Removal totally eliminates it. If you’re unsure whether to keep a suspicious file, you can always write its name down and then do a Web search on it to see if deleting it would have any negative impact on your computer.


Some anti-virus products give you an option to "clean" a file rather than accepting or deleting it. That means the product will attempt to preserve the file while removing the malicious code. If you’re hesitant about what to do, The New York Times' Gadgetwise blog advises that you don’t touch the quarantined items for the time being. Download new updates for a few days from your product’s website, then run another scan to see if the items are still detected as threats.

Windows Defender

Windows Defender is anti-virus protection software that comes with Windows 8 and replaces Microsoft Security Essentials. Under the “Settings” tab, if you select the “Advanced” option, you’ll find a check box labeled “Remove quarantined files after." If you are especially confident that any file found is bad, then this option enables you to automatically have the software delete it after a certain number of days. If you’d rather be on the safe side, then don’t select this and continue to manually review and delete files from the “Quarantined items” option under the “History” tab.