Today my company has some external support personnels coming over and 1 of them bought a thumb drive containing the files for the fix to the driver problems.

The IT manager of my company requested for the thumb drive and ran it through 1 of the Windows computer's antivirus, before clearing them to proceed.

However, as I noticed, they were doing things on Macs and not on a Windows machine. So I wonder if my IT manager has been doing something that isn't too useful afterall.

Do most consumers' antivirus softwares typically also scan for viruses that target other operating systems and not just scan for viruses harmful only to the OS it is installed on?

  • While there are Mac and Linux viruses, thumb drive viruses are all Windows. That's because it's the only OS to come up with the "Autorun" feature, which is horribly unsafe. So, it's perfectly reasonable to scan a thumb drive on Windows only.
    – MSalters
    Jan 20, 2012 at 15:16
  • 1
    @MSalters Autorun on removable media have been disabled sense windows XP. Modern thumb drive virus use a exploit in something like the icon rendering to infect the computer. Jan 20, 2012 at 18:00
  • 3
    @MSalters: That's not true. Because of Plug-and-Play, any USB device can potentially install device-drivers automatically on any operating system with it enabled. Although I don't know of any such viruses for Mac or Linux, it is still a real threat. Jan 20, 2012 at 19:01
  • Oh my...all answers have equal amount of votes. Difficult for me to choose the winner.
    – snowpolar
    Jan 21, 2012 at 13:59
  • @BlueRaja: Even with Plug-n-Play, it's the OS which decides which driver to install, not the device. The device merely tells "I'm made by vendor VID, I'm product number PID, and I'm a kind of USB class ID. The OS then figures out which PnP driver is suitable.
    – MSalters
    Jan 23, 2012 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


I cannot say about all consumer antivirus products, but most of them scan for all threats on all platforms, since they have a unified database of virus/malware signatures, which is used by all products, regardless of the platform. For example:

Microsoft Security Essentials lists MacOS threats in their Malware Protection Center, and all these signatures are included in all their products, including Windows consumer products (Security Essentials).

  • Yep. Once AV knows (thinks) it's malware, it will warn you, no matter if the actual OS is vulnerable. Even withinin the Windows world: for example, there are viruses that would only work on XP, not on Vista+ and still they would be blocked by AV on Vista+ Jan 21, 2012 at 18:53
  • Another nice example (taking the same concept from OS to browsers): If the AV is programmed to block browser exploits (e.g. malicious Javascripts), and there's a page infected with an exploit that uses a vulnerability in IE, you won't be ale to open that page in any browser--the AV simply won't let the code in. Jan 21, 2012 at 18:58

Yes they can, if programmed for that attitude. For example: ClamAV written for Linux (after wards ported for windows etc.) but it can scan viruses which written for windows.


Yes. For example, there are solutions (e.g. AVG, ClamAV) which run on Linux servers, typically on file servers or e-mail servers. Their main purpose there is to prevent viruses (as well as SPAM) to get into the networks (e.g. via e-mails), to spread around (via internal file servers).


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