Friday, May 11, 2012

The Dangers Of Downloading Free Software

We have all been bombarded with advertisements that offer free products in exchange for an additional purchase. We immediately become skeptical when we hear “Sign up today and get a free umbrella.”, but we don't carry this skepticism over to the digital world. When we are offered a free screen saver or weather updater we jump at the offer without ever considering the motivations that are driving this free offer. There are instances where somebody writes a piece of software because they genuinely want to help other people. The sad news is that most people aren't giving these programs away out of the goodness of their hearts. There is an ulterior motive. Hidden deep within the code of that screen saver or weather updater there's usually a secondary program that you never see. It runs in the background, and it can do anything from slowing your computer down, crashing your computer altogether, stealing your information, or using you as a relay to send spam.
We have all heard stories about people opening dubious emails and getting a virus. This is the most well documented way to get an infection, simply because it is the easiest to identify. The fact of the matter is that viruses are getting less common as time goes on. There simply isn't enough money in viruses to make it worth somebody's time to create them. People that have the skills to create viruses are capable of higher returns on their time through other forms of malware.
Adware is now a much more common form of what we would consider malware. Adware is a program that displays advertisements on your screen, which the developer of the program collects profits from. Adware takes several forms. The most obvious is a program that periodically pops up a window with an ad banner. Another way that adware may work is to hijack your web browser. They are capable of replacing the advertisements that are displayed on legitimate web sites with their own ads. There is a group of adware that will even redirect your web browser to the sites of their advertisers. You can visit Google to perform a web search, and instead of displaying the results that Google publishes you would see a list of sites paid for by advertisers. Each link that you click on, the creator of the adware gets paid.
Another way to profit from malware is a scheme known as scareware. Scareware preys on people's fears of infections. A common scareware tactic is to pop up a window that looks like a system message telling you that there is a problem with your computer and directing you to a legitimate looking site, where they try to sell you a program to “fix” the problem. This program will usually just load more infections onto your system. The most common ploys that scareware uses are messages stating that your computer is not running at maximum speed, your hard drive is failing, or that you have a virus infection. The program will mimic the behavior of these problems by hiding files, hogging system resources to slow performance, or crashing your computer. These infections can be hard to combat, as the malware will often times hijack your system in an attempt to make you feel that you have no choice but to buy and install their software. In this case it's best to seek professional assistance, as there are tools specifically designed to overcome these tactics. Never, under any circumstances, download and install a package that is suggested if you observe any of this behavior, as doing so would open your system to much more serious infections.
The last form of malware we're going to discuss is spyware. Spyware, as the name implies, is used to steal your information. A common tactic is keylogging. Keylogging records every keystroke that is entered into your system and then sends that information back to the developer of the program. This can allow them access to all of your passwords, online account information, banking information, or anything else that has been entered into your system.
All of this can cause the internet to be a scary place. How can you tell what's safe to download and what's not? An easy way to determine this is through a little research. A simple Google search will often times pull up results of people having problems after downloading a program, if it is in fact malicious. Another way to keep yourself safe is to only download programs from sources that you know to be safe. Downloading a driver from HP is probably safe, whereas downloading the same driver from a file sharing site may not be. It is relatively simple to download a program, alter it to include malware, and upload it back to a file sharing site. This way people can add vicious programs to seemingly safe files.
The most important step you can take to protect yourself is to make sure that your system and software is updated with the most recent security patches. Legitimate software vendors are constantly searching their programs for security holes that malware can exploit. They then send out “patches” to fill those holes. This is only effective if you download and install these patches.
There is a lot of good, free programming online for download. However, as with everything else, there is a lot of bad out there too. Hopefully with this guide we've armed you with some tools to protect yourself. Make sure that you have an up-to-date anti-malware program running, and follow the tips described above and you shouldn't have any problems. By knowing what to look for we make the job of attacking us much more daunting.

1 comment:

  1. These are really good tips to know and There are some regular spots where the Adware hides and we must aware of them.