When we are talking about free software, you could be thinking “how could there possibly be any risks? We are talking free?” And really, who doesn’t love free stuff? But the truth of the matter is that free software, just like paid software, does carry some risks. It does not carry the same risks that open source software does, because freeware is usually produced by a company that has hired professionals, whereas open source can be written by anyone who decides to write it.
But what are the risks with downloading and using freeware? Should you be afraid?
You do need to be careful when you are downloading free programs, because they do run the risk of costing you a lot of money even when they are initially proposed as being free. While some of them cost money because they go beyond the promotional period, the reality is that some of them also have embedded malware, spyware, or other viruses. Viruses attack your computers in many different ways. I would especially be wary of freeware security software.
You can protect yourself, however, and here is how.
- Research before you download. Before you click the download button, look around to see what other people have said about it. In the depths of the internet, if someone has found something bad about it, they are sure to have shared it somewhere. More legitimate sites, including CNET or ZDNet, should also be consulted.
- Look to see who has been promoting it. Has the software been approved by anyone that is a good source, like TRUSTe? If it has, then you may feel better about downloading it before you do.
- Check in on your security software. Before downloading something that is potentially risky, check and see if your own personal computer security software is updated. This is the failsafe in the event that the software winds up being bugged. If the security software is up to date, then you are more likely to have a bug found before it does any real damage.
- Be cautious with app freeware. While this applies mostly to smartphones, there are a lot of widgets that you can now download onto your computer. And with the prevalence of tablets, this is becoming a real problem for the newer forms of technology. Apps that may have been freeware could easily contain spyware within them. You do have some knowledge part of the time when this is happening, because your phone will ask you if it can share your location or it would like access to your information. All the same, Trojan viruses are things that you would not see until the software was downloaded.
5. Think about toolbars. Toolbars are also something that can easily be shady when it comes to freeware. So many things will say “hey you can use this freeware if you download the toolbar first.” Run for the hills if the freeware is asking for you to download a toolbar. Once you have the toolbars they can easily steal your information from the internet as well as clutter and slow down your browser. Some toolbars are useful, especially for things that you actually would use and already enjoy (like Google), so I don’t want to dissuade you from using them all together. Then again, several websites will try to download toolbars to websites that you may never have even heard of. If you allow all of them to download, your browser will be so overloaded that it becomes hard to even look at your browser. So proceed, but use caution before downloading those free toolbars.