Friday, January 30, 2015

Tips to Safely Download Free Software

Free software is always going to be popular and worthwhile.  This means the potential to get malware from free software is always going to be an issue.  In "Safely Downloading Free Software - Clicking Next Next Next can Surprise You", we specifically address the issues faced during the download process.  Issues include piggyback software, advertising, and confusing download buttons for software other than that intended.  This post discusses other important tips to keep in mind when considering free software.
  1. Is free software safe?
  2. There are plenty of examples of free software, whether well known or not, which are safe to download and use.  Not all free software contains malware.  However, for every legitimate free software, there are at least a dozen filled with malware vying for your attention.  Free software is often written by programmers wanting to fill a need because they have the capacity to do so and love building software.

  3. Setting a restore point
  4. Before downloading any new software it is always a good idea to set a restore point on the device the software will be installed on.  To create a restore point:

    In Windows 7/ 8 / 8.1, right-click "Computer" or "This-PC" and select "Properties".  Click "System Protection" on the left.  On the System Protection tab in the System Properties dialog box, click the "Create" button towards the bottom of the window.

    Type a meaningful name for the restore point.  This will make it easier to find if you later need to roll the device back to the restore point .  Using the name of the software being installed is an easy way to identify the restore point for later reference. 

    If you have issues after the software is installed, roll the device back to the configuration it was in before the software was installed by using a restore point.  To roll a device back to a restore point, right click on "Computer" or "This-PC" and select "Properties".  Select "System Protection" and on the System Protection tab, click on System Restore to start the restore wizard. Click on the restore point created before the software install and click Next to restore the device.  NOTE:  The restore process can take some time and any other program changes made after the restore date may also be removed. 

  5. Ask for help
  6. At any time during the process, when feeling unsure about a piece of software, err on the side of caution.  Remember to utilize any resources available.  Whether it is a friend, a family member, or even a coworker, tech savvy contacts can be very helpful.  When possible, access their knowledge because walking you through a download process might only take them a few minutes.  People who often download software or work in IT have a greater understanding of the risks and better know what to watch for during the process.

  7. Downloading the software
  8. When looking for free software, try to use a known and trusted website to download the software.  Verify the name of the file makes sense for the software you intend to download.  If you are prompted to run or save the software, select saving the software instead of running it.  This will give you the opportunity to run a virus or malware check against the software.  No matter where you download the software from, if the software is free it will almost inevitably have other software piggybacked onto its download.  When running the software installer, be sure to read each screen prompt thoroughly before accepting the defaults and clicking next.  If additional software is offered, be sure you want the software or click decline, uncheck boxes, or change selections to move forward without installing the additional software.

  9. Scanning the download
  10. If the software was saved, run an antivirus or malware checking program against the file.  The scan should not take long but might find potential threats so it is worth the effort.  If the scan detects any malware, do not run the executable.  Instead, delete the file off the device and look for another type of software.  You may also want to check the file downloaded was the correct installer for the software you intended to install.

Free software can be extremely useful, fun, and helpful.  However, not all free software is free of malware.  When planning to use free software, create a restore point, choose the download site carefully, check the file name when downloading, scan the install file, and ask for help from anyone who might be able to help.  If something seems wrong, stop the download or the installation. If the worst possible case happens and the device becomes infected with malware, roll it back to the restore point created before installing the software.

As always, be safe!

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