Looking to download a program or update your software? Make sure to read all of the fine print very carefully during the download process or you may be adding unwanted programs or toolbars that can slow your system, hijack your browser and compromise security. Take a look at two common practices that target the unwary downloader:
Opting Out: In years past it was common that you had to “opt-in” by manually selecting any add-ons or expanded options that came with a download. You checked the boxes of any extras you desired and often you were given the pop-up option to simply say “Yes, please” or “No, thanks.” Now, however, many sites require you to opt-out, or deselect, add-ons the site has included in the download. Ever installed a program and noticed a new toolbar you hadn’t asked for? You may have been a victim of the opt-out scam that takes advantage of those who quickly click through the download process.
Add-ons can range from the annoying (a new toolbar) to the potentially malicious. Even trusted companies can be guilty of trying to take advantage of users who blindly click through the installation process. Check out the following Adobe update and note that the default process requires you to manually uncheck a box to avoid the McAfee add-on:
The image came from the official (and reputable) Adobe site and poses no malicious threat to your system but it does illustrate the widespread practice of opt-out downloads. Even though this inclusion was posted with no bad intent it can load your system with another unwanted program that may affect the performance of other software, including anti-virus and anti-malware programs.
Confuse & Conquer: Sometimes sites offer an overwhelming number of links that can confuse the user and trick them into clicking on or downloading unnecessary or malicious programs. To compound the problem, reputable software creators sometimes link their site downloads to these third-party download links. For a long time the MalwareBytes Anti-Malware free download went to Cnet (now Download.com.) Try to find the actual link to the MalwareBytes program in this screenshot:
Difficult, right? It’s an old practice but relatively easy to crack. Take some time and look around-numerous complaints and threats of legal action have forced most sites to mark the correct, clean version of the download (even if they do so in very small print.)
How to protect yourself:
- Only download programs or updates from official sites or reputable file repositories. Check the reputations of sites using multiple online forums and always consult with your IT staff if you have any questions.
- Read all of the site’s policies before beginning any downloads and carefully proceed through the download/installation process one step at a time. Read all text and examine all graphics/pop-ups.
- Check the file size of your download. If the size is suspiciously small it may be linking you to another online source that contains the file plus other unwanted threats.
- Check the url of the link. Does it match the site or the product? Or does it seem out of place?
- Use your security software link and file scanning services.
- Never download anything if you the slightest question regarding its source or quality.