The best things in life may be free, but downloading free software is not the best experience. Even experienced PC users constantly get stressed out whenever there is a malicious pop-up or a virus alert. Distinguishing safe download links from spyware requires a sharp eye and a deep knowledge. Both have to be obtained with experience.

There are several categories of typical free software download issues. The first problem is connected to malicious advertising and illegal strategies, used by advertisers in order to make money with free clicks.

The checklist of the most common security threats

We collected the list of all most common free download throws, briefly described them, and provided you with quick solutions to these issues.

Risk #1  – Malicious extensions

Developing a full software is surely an expensive hassle. However, making a toolbar or an extension is an entirely different thing. Writing an extension is much easier – it doesn’t require elaborate functionality and GUI interface. These limits, however, still provide a great entrance for potential viruses and create a tunnel for channeling user’s personal data.

The more extensions you use, the higher is the risk of infection
The more extensions you use, the higher is the risk of infection

Toolbars and extensions are connected directly to your browser. Most of these tools, even legit ones, have permission to modify search results and have access to your memory and processor. Basically, you are leaving an opened gate to all online interactions.

Consequences:

  • Personal data can be used for advertising;
  • Hackers steal financial data and browsing history;
  • Compromised emails and social media accounts;
  • Decreased page load speed.

The worst part is, a lot of these malicious apps can be installed directly from the Google Chrome Web Store. It’s only natural that users trust an official store while hackers like to exploit this trust.

Risk #2 – Fake download buttons

This scam has been around for decades now but nevertheless, still remains one of the most successful methods of device infiltration. You have definitely seen these big green or blue buttons with giant ‘Download’ signs on them – the only problem is, the link actually leads to a malicious download or to a compromised pop-up.

Fake download buttons
Buttons are red, buttons are blue – I just got a virus and so did you.

The actual download link is small and barely visible, often in black and white colors. Sometimes, you have to scroll through several fake buttons before actually getting to the real link.

Consequences:

  • A possibility to download a fake software with malicious code instead of the sought tool;
  • Trojans and viruses in the malicious installers;
  • Malvertising – pop-ups, push-notifications, malicious video advertisements;
  • Unauthorized subscriptions – by clicking, you are actually agreeing to subscribe to some digest or social media page.

The rule of thumb here is to never trust big and bright buttons. Legitimate free software repositories are well aware of these scums and now make their download buttons in neutral colors, differentiating themselves from scam. Blue, black, white colors (and their shadows) are usually trustworthy whereas green, red, orange shades are more likely to indicate fraud.

Also, use trusted websites for software download. These are our three top picks:

  • Softpedia – one of the biggest software repositories with tool’s reviews and detailed descrptions;
  • RocketFiles – Software Downloads – a great free service with tried-and-proven software from well-known provides;
  • MajorGeeks – rare programs, manually tested and reviewed personally by the ediotrs of the website.

Risk #3 – Be careful about agreeing to offers

Even if the program file itself is legitimate, the installer can still be shady. As a result, you will be forced into installing additional applications BonziBuddy was one of the most popular intrusive add-ons. You just forgot to take the tick off from the ‘Accept’ field – and the malware was basically invited to the computer.

If some malware, like BonziBuddy, prefers to sit quietly in the system and gradually steal your information, other programs will be displayed on your toolbars and menus.

I steal your data and break your computer
I steal your data and break your computer

The most common ones are browsers with modified settings. If you decide to use the program, it will compromise your login data, financial information, sending attachments, browsing history.

Consequences:

  • Under the overload of malicious software, your OS can easily crash;
  • Stolen personal information;
  • System processes are significantly slowed down;
  • Viruses from the malicious software delete your files;
  • Trojans may infiltrate other, previously healthy programs.

There is good news. The fix of this problem is simple.

  1. Always pay attention to what you click and approve. Whenever you open in Installer, try to agree to a few things as possible. All additional installations should be regarded as potentially dangerous and declined.
  2. Stick to the software that you normally use. It normally goes without saying but we’ll repeat (just in case): if there is a new browser on your PC, don’t ever use it. Instead, work in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox.

Risk #4 – Malicious updates

Let’s start with a scary story. You definitely heard about CCleaner, a tool that’s used to optimize PCs and clean device’s memory. It really boosts the functionality of the device and increases its overall speed. The software has a great reputation and has proven to be useful for more than 50 million users.

Even Microsoft and Samsung got on the hook
Even Microsoft and Samsung got on the hook

In 2017, however, some shady things were discovered. When the program was updated to its 5.33 version, turned out, the tool was adding malicious code to users’ computers. Of course, no one has expected that. Even less so from a tool like CCleaner, acquired by Avast, a software security program.

Did developers do it on purpose? Most likely, not but that’s not the main problem. Users who were unknowingly compromised by the malware experienced technical problems with their devices, some had to reinstall the OS.

Consequences:

  • Malicious software updates can compromise the data that’s used by the tool;
  • An infected program may require additional permissions and hackers will lay their hands on your personal data;
  • Serious system problems.

Avoiding this issue is also simple. Before you agree to install software updates, read its new functions and requested permissions. Now, you need to understand that software developers can be unaware of the malware and they surely will not list ‘malicious code’ in the list of additions. The only way to find out such details is to follow tech reviews and blogs. Malicious software updates make the news – so you are likely to find out soon.

Risk #5 – Additional downloads

Software becomes more complex and requires more additional information. That’s why now simply installing the program usually isn’t enough. After you’ve entered the program, it can require you to agree to additional installation – plug-ins, media files, social media add-ons. It’s a normal practice and usually, there is no risk involved.

You want to think twice here
You want to think twice here

However, these files can also be malicious and just like with updates, you won’t know right away. The only way to prevent your computer from getting infected is to avoid these additional uploads until possible. If you had to perform them obligatory, go to online Forums, and check the information on the tool’s official website. If these additions caused security problems before, you will not be alone in this situation.

Conclusions

Avoiding risks during free software download is easier than it seems. Being careful about each permission and installation is usually enough to protect you from 95% of all threats. Also, look carefully where you click and don’t get influenced by bright buttons. Overall, hackers prefer aggressive communications – if you see a scary Call-to-Action or unusually intense shades of the interface, you are likely to be dealing with malware.

Be careful – and you’ll be safe.