This is a Guest Post by Sona

Do you like free stuff? Who doesn’t! The Internet today is flooded with free software, but when it comes to downloading from free sites, you’d better watch out. There are hundreds of websites offering free downloads, and we often rush to get software in bulk, without bothering to check out the official sources, or trying to avoid the lengthy download process associated with them.

The flip side of the coin, however, is that free programs or software (also referred to as freeware), can contain a large proportion of harmful code that could cause actual damage to your computer, or your nerves.

What is the potential damage of freeware?

Software and programs downloaded from freeware sites or downloading portals often come with spyware or adware or other malicious elements like viruses, worms or the famous and dangerous Trojan horses embedded inside. What can be the consequence?

  • These malicious programs can destroy important files on your computer. Some Trojans can even delete or hide program file folders with you having no access to them whatsoever
  • Thieves can steal your identity and access your finances. A lot of freeware contains botnets that take control of your computer, allowing thieves to grab their share of free stuff and finances.
  • These programs can change your default settings and make themselves the default browser, search engine, etc.
  • Some viruses will add ads to all the pages you browse, so any click will result in opening spammy websites trying to sell their stuff.

So how do you protect yourself from the threats? There are several steps to keep in mind and follow:

Check for website reputation

Let’s look at the example of one of the most famous downloading sites- Softonic, and go step-by-step through the process of keeping your computer (as well as identity, personal data and finances) safe.

Let’s start by saying you first need to check out whether the downloading portal itself can be trusted. How do you do that? Simply type “Is Softonic safe? (or any other downloading portal name)”. Look at the reputable websites results that have real user ratings. In our search we come across Softonic reputation rating on MyWOT (Web of Trust). Here you can see that the website has an 85/100 rating for trustworthiness and an 86/100 rating for child safety, which is rather a good standard.

Softonic's mywot review

Look at user reviews:

Don’t restrict your search to looking at the reputation scores. Remember, you are not the first person trying to download “that game” or an important new update for one of your favorite programs. So, check the user reviews, and see whether the downloading portal can be trusted. In our case, a glimpse at the reviews in MyWOT can show that some of the users report adware and malware cases, so we definitely need to watch out!

MyWOT user comment

Assess the actual file:

Now going on to downloading. Once you have entered the download site, take a moment to assess what you’re downloading, because the nature of your download can pretty much determine how much adware it consists. Are you downloading an illegally cracked program or a new Linux update? There’s a much greater chance that the cracked software is going to contain a virus hidden in the download. So, if you are out there searching for Microsoft Office cracked version, remember you’re at a greater risk.

Avoid download advertisements:

What is the secret of malware that offers you to download it? The fact that it doesn’t usually look as malware, but a decent download button. Most downloading websites will have several download buttons on the actual page from which you are about to download a free program. The same goes with this Softonic screen. And guess what? In some cases none of them is the actual one, because the software download takes place through a link at the bottom of the page. In other cases, there will be a download button, but not a huge one covering the whole page.

Avoid advertisement

In this picture we see two download buttons, only one of them being the actual one. So what happens if you click the wrong download button? The button will usually redirect you to a malware-ridden page where you will download “something” very different from what you thought it was.

Refuse to download “Installers” and “Download Managers”:

When you are downloading from websites offering free programs, do you ever ask yourself the question how these websites earn the extended amounts of money that they do? Often times, they do so by running ads by other software makers.

So while downloading the actual software you may be offered an extension that will help you with future downloads, or what’s worse, you won’t even be given an option and you will automatically download the file. Check the file size and don’t run it on your computer if you came across such a download. It’s better to go search for another way to download or download again being more careful, than spend ages trying to clean your computer.

Read before you click “Next”:

One of the most common ways malware and adware starts working on your computer is during the actual installation. You click “Run”, and then you are lazy enough to read what the program actually offers, and you are clicking “Next” a couple of times.  So here we go- your software is installed together with a dozen of PUPs!

So, be extremely careful and do READ the screens that are part of the installation wizard: the screens with the check boxes, “next” buttons, and the page that asks you to “Agree”. You’re spending just a couple of minutes but it results in lots of saved nerves in the end.

If you are offered “Custom Installation”, do go with it, because it will be much easier to choose what exactly to install!

Keep security programs up-to-date:

This one is easy, yet often omitted. Make sure you have an antivirus installed on your computer and make sure you install the updates on time.

So, now you are armed with the knowledge you need to stay safe around millions of adware and malware that are out there waiting to ruin your computer and your mood. Make sure to adhere to these steps and ensure a better experience while you’re downloading!

That’s it! This was our case study on Softonic, If you haney any queries then feel free to ask it via comment section below.

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This Guest Post is Submitted By: Sona

Sona (Twitter) is a digital marketer for 7 years. Besides being SEO consultant & Digital Marketing consultant she is also knife throwing specialist, seaworld lover and traveler.

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