Sometimes, “free” can come at a price. Everybody likes the idea of a gift – but when it comes to free antivirus software it's advisable to proceed cautiously, as these gifts often go hand in hand with security risks that can jeopardize your computer or mobile device. Free applications can contain spyware, or other kinds of malware such as viruses, Trojans or worms that spread to your device and attack it once you have completed the download. Free software (or “freeware”) can also open your device up to botnets, programs which allow identity thieves to take control of your computer.
Here are 4 things to think about before you decide to go ahead with a free download:
1. Check the source of your download
Freeware tends to come from one of three places: established companies, small software developers and open-source developers. Freeware from well-known companies is often in the form of a trial subscription to a service or a standard freebie which they will encourage you to upgrade (at a price). This sort of freeware is unlikely to pose a threat to your device. Smaller software developers usually advertise “shareware,” where software is free only on a trial basis. Before accepting any such freebies, it is worth verifying the company’s legitimacy by checking if they are registered with any software trade organizations.
The real security risks come with freeware offered by open-source developers, which means that the software is open to modification. The internet is full of sites offering free widgets such as games, or music applications – but it can be extremely difficult to verify the security of any such freeware.
2. Has this software been tested?
Before you click “download,” try Googling the name of your freeware to see what other people have to say about it. There are also a number of commercial sites that test software and give it a review: CNET, for example, is free to use and contains tens of thousands of software and application reviews. Doing a little bit of homework before you download could save you an immeasurable amount of time, energy and resources in the long run.
3. Are your security programs up-to-date?
You can be sensible and cautious to the utmost and conduct thorough checks on the sources and reviews of any software you are interested in downloading – but even the most careful behavior is not enough to thwart malware from entering your device. The most important thing to do before you download anything is to check not only that you have anti-virus and anti-spy software running on your computer, but that the programs are active and fully updated.
4. What’s in it for the provider?
In many cases there is an underlying motive behind the “free” software. Try and work out why the software is free, and how this freebie benefits the provider. Oftentimes, there are paid advertisers who have a stake in your download. For example, new software could try and install toolbars onto your device from websites which you have rarely visited. At best, toolbars are annoying and clutter up your browser but at worst, they can contain spyware that will steal your information. Before you go through with a download, read the conditions you are committing to and make sure to “de-select” any offers for unwanted extras.
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