Malware is the bane of the Internet. Seriously, few things on the web are as dangerous as contracting malware, and few things take as long as the malware removal process. Avoid at all costs.
But here’s the problem with malware: It’s not enough to install a top-notch security suite. You will need to change your bad security habits and start doing what the experts are doing.
And if there’s one habit you need to get rid of ASAP, it’s worry-free downloading of software from any site. One of the most common sources of bloatware and even malware today is freeware download sites.
1. CNET download
Shop around and ask people what they think of CNET Download – the site formerly known as Download.com – and most of them will probably tell you to stay away. You should heed this advice if you know what is right for you.
CNET Download has been around since 1996, which makes it 20 years at the time of writing. It used to be the most popular download destination on the web, but over those two decades the site has really gone downhill.
In 2011, the site introduced a download management program called CNET TechTracker which was allegedly full of toolbars and bloatware, which was so bad that it was eventually reported by security suites. Then in 2015 malware turned out to be bundled with their installation files.
Can you download files safely from CNET Download? Yes you can, but it’s risky. Few people trust CNET Download now and using the site is like walking through a minefield. Your next step could be the last.
Tucows is another free download site in the vein of CNET Download. The funny thing is that Tucows is actually older than CNET Download – about three years. Launched in 1993, Tucows is one of the oldest download sites in the world.
In 2008, Tucows announced that they would be turning away from software downloads to diversify their business. He would launch the Ting mobile service network, among other companies.
Since changing focus, Tucows has been involved in a few malware-related incidents. For example, in 2010, he served as embezzlement to visitors. And in 2015, Emsisoft discovered that Tucows served the most potentially unwanted programs with its downloads.
We recommend that you stay away. There are better sites with more up-to-date repositories and less malware to worry about.
Not to be confused with Softpedia, which is best known for what it is, Softonic is another old download site that’s been around for a long time – since 1997 – and it’s actually foreign, based in Spain.
As of 2009, Softonic has spearheaded several different distribution models, including the Softonic Toolbar and the Softonic Downloader. Even when users unsubscribed, they were bombarded with this type of unwanted program which is why Softonic now has such a bad reputation.
In 2015, the co-founder of CNET Download became the new CEO of Softonic. The toolbar and downloader were immediately dismantled and the site promised clean and safe software, but it’s still too early to tell.
Considering CNET Download’s poor performance in delivering clean and safe software, we recommend that you treat Softonic with the same caution and avoid it until the site proves itself and speaks.
4. Public torrent trackers
Despite what many people think, the torrent itself is not illegal. Indeed, there are many legal torrents and they are all valid and legitimate. But let’s face it: if you are torrenting, you are probably doing it illegally.
We do not tolerate this practice, but if you are go download torrents, heed this warning. Public torrent tracking sites like ThePirateBay may contain malware.
For example, malicious advertising is a major concern when advertisements are used to distribute malware. Malware can also exist in fake torrent downloads. If you download a movie and it says you need to install a special video codec, that “codec” is probably malware.
According to a 2015 study, users are 28 times more likely to contract malware from torrent sites than from traditional websites.
In short, torrents are risky. The risk decreases if you switch to using private torrent trackers, but even these can be dangerous, if you’re not careful.
5. File hosting services
Piracy exists in many forms. Torrenting is the most controversial and public form, of course, but file hosting sites are a big part of the hacking business. Do you remember the now defunct MegaUpload? Yeah, those sites.
Like torrent sites, file hosting sites are prone to malicious attacks and downloads that contain malware, but they also have a third form of malware distribution: the fake download button.
We’ve all seen it before. You search for a pirated copy of a music book or album, for example, and land on a site like Turbobit or HugeFiles – only to see DOWNLOAD HERE anywhere. Here’s a good rule of thumb:
The bigger the download button, the more wrong it is.
We’ve written about how to spot and avoid fake download buttons before, but these scammers are constantly evolving and becoming more and more deceptive. The only sure-fire way to protect yourself is to avoid file hosting sites altogether.
6. Warez exchange forums
This one is sort of a corollary of the point directly above, but you should avoid warez sites as much as possible. For those who don’t know, warez is a form of piracy that mostly involves cracked software.
Warez are usually traded within a community, although these communities may be publicly accessible through search engines. Most often warez exchanges exist as forums, but use various file hosting services for actual sharing.
The threats are the same here: malicious downloads, fake warez and infected warez.
7. The Windows Store
There are so many reasons not to use the Windows Store. The lack of many important and popular apps is a huge downside, but there is also a plethora of dead and discontinued apps that simply don’t work anymore.
Most importantly, it looks like the Windows Store isn’t as malware proof as it once was hoped.
The two main selling points of the Windows Store are: a, it is highly regulated to filter out scamware and malware, and of them, applications run in a sandbox to prevent them from accessing system files and processes.
Well, we’ve known for a while that the Windows Store is full of scam software and deceptive apps, but the sandbox aspect has been pretty good … so far, at least.
Not too long ago, ZDNet discovered a Windows Store app that used an in-app advertisement to download unwanted software. Microsoft is doing its best to fix this security flaw, but for now you might want to avoid downloading anything from the Windows Store.
Which download sites do you avoid?
This list is not exhaustive, but it is an important starting point. Too many sites can spread Trojan horses and malicious worms on your computer and it is your job to be careful and vigilant. You can turn to the most secure software download sites, but they aren’t perfect either. Stay cautious!
What should you do when you discover malware on your system? Follow our step-by-step guide to tackling malware infection.
Now tell us: which nasty download sites do you avoid at all costs? What’s the worst malware you’ve ever contracted? Share with us in the comments!
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