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Tech tips

Security tip: 5 mistakes to avoid when downloading files

I’ve noticed there have been a lot of questions in my inbox lately about whether or not the downloads I recommend are safe. The answer is yes. Before recommending anything to readers we test them rigorously.

But there are other sites that may not, which is why you need to be careful. It’s easy to be careless when downloading files and free programs from the web since all it takes is a few clicks, but those clicks may lead you to something you are not expecting. Tap or click here for questions to ask yourself before clicking any links.

Here are five common mistakes that people make when downloading files.

1. You download apps from unknown sources

There are thousands of free applications available online. If you love trying out these free applications, there are times when you might click on a download link out of curiosity. Be it an Android or iOS device, a Mac, or a Windows 10 PC, there are apps out there that are not what they seem.

To prevent rogue apps and programs from installing, you can opt to disallow the installation of programs from unauthorized and unknown sources. Installing apps solely from your system’s respective app store ensures they were tested and checked for viruses and malware, plus they passed the store’s security and privacy guidelines.

Here’s a recent example of a third-party app store loaded with malicious apps. Tap or click here to find out why third-party app stores are bad news.

(Note: Since there are multiple Android manufacturers, the instructions on how to adjust settings on your device may be different than the ones we give here. For your specific steps check your user manual. Tap or click here for thousands of free user manuals online.)

On Android devices, to prevent side loading of non-Google Play approved apps, go to Settings > Apps & Notifications select Advanced and Permission Manager. From here, slide the toggle next to “Allow installation of apps from unknown sources” to the left to disable it.

For Windows 10, open Settings > Update & security > For developers. Under the header “Developer Mode” and “Install apps from any source, including loose files, slide the toggle to the left to disable.

On Macs, you could prevent applications from unidentified developers from installing. For an even more secure system, select Mac App store only. To access this, open System Preferences > Security and Privacy > click the padlock and enter an administrator password to unlock it, then make sure you select either “Mac Store and identified developers only” or, for an even airtight system, “Mac Store only.”

iOS devices don’t really have a way to sideload apps unless they’re jailbroken. You will still have to be vigilant and read reviews and feedback for the apps on iTunes and the Apple App store before you download and install.

2. Downloading without a virus or spyware scanner

If you are surfing the web unprotected, please stop. There are numerous threats and scams lurking out there that will try and catch you off guard. Remember, all it takes is a few clicks to let the bad stuff in so a little help from security software is always a good thing to have. Think of it as your personal internet bodyguard.

Windows 10 has its own free built-in scanner called Windows Defender that will protect you from known threats. It does a decent job on its own but for even better and complete protection, be it Android, Mac or Windows, you could always opt for third-party security solutions for that extra peace of mind. Tap or click here to find the best antivirus for PC or Mac.

3. You don’t research applications via user feedback and reviews

Before downloading a program or a free application, make it a habit of seeking more information about it with an online search first. Check for the name of the program followed by keywords like “scam,” “virus,” or “safe” and see what comes up.

Do not rely on and trust reviews from the program’s own site but do check multiple sources. Usually, repeated bad reviews and warnings from multiple sites and user forums are red flags that a particular application is not safe.

4. You download cracked or pirated software and files

Peer-to-peer file sharing is full of “unlocked” or “cracked” versions of paid software. It might be tempting to download these so-called torrent files of popular paid software but you are taking a huge risk each time.

Cracked software is highly modified versions of the programs you are supposed to be downloading. These are not checked by legitimate publishers and hackers could pretty much inject anything into them. Software key generators are also applications by themselves and blindly running them could install more than you bargained for.

Also, beware of downloading pirated movies and music. These files are covered by copyright laws and downloading such files may get you in deep trouble with the authorities and could even land you in jail. Tap or click here to see how hackers are spreading malware through pirated movies and TV shows.

5. You don’t check for sneaky bloatware

Now, even legitimate downloads from reputable sites have a habit of sneaking other applications or toolbars you don’t need. These prompts usually occur either during the download or installation process. Keep an eye on bloatware like download managers, PC and registry cleaners, search toolbars or browser homepage alterations that they entice you to install.

Before you click “Next” on an installer, look out for checkboxes that opt you into services by default and try to understand what the “Accept” buttons really mean. Bloatware installations count on the user being eager or careless.

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