I thought I did everything right. I was looking for a free alternative to the most popular, and not so free, word processing software package. I did my research. I read the reviews. Finally, I picked the package that I liked. It was popular, and was praised by both users and pros. So, I proceeded to start the download process. Everything seemed to go perfectly smoothly. I was routed to a mirror site, but that didn’t alarm me. After all, this was a popular package, and I had no doubt that download traffic was intense.

It Seemed Fine at First...

For the first few days, everything worked great. Then, one morning as I was doing my usual message checking, reading the news, and general internet puttering, I got an annoying pop up. My computer was in urgent need of repair! I rolled my eyes, hit alt F4 and went about my business. This happened three or four more times over the next few days. Finally, I ensured that my virus software was up to date and ran a quick scan. Everything was fine, according to the scan.

More Than an Annoying Pop Up

The only problem was that the pop up wouldn’t go away. Then, the popup started coming up more frequently. This time, it was full screen and alt F4 didn’t work. I ran virus scan in safe mode. “No problem here” it told me. Obviously that wasn’t true.

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Then the phone call came. A man with a very earnest voice told me that he was from Microsoft, and that they detected potentially illegal behavior on my computer. They needed me to help them verify that I wasn’t doing anything illegal. It was probably just a misunderstanding he relayed, but if I didn’t help them out, they would have to pass my information on to ‘law authorities’.

Paying For my Naivete

I’m not that big of a fool. I hung up and called a friend who worked at a local computer repair store. A little over a hundred bucks later, and I was back in business. In my case, we believe that I was routed to a hacked mirror site that pushed down malware in addition to the software I intended to download. It was a pricy lesson.

How can you avoid my mistake? Keep reading for a few safe downloading tips.

Reconsider Your Virus Software

I won’t name names, but when I ran into my problem, I had subscription to a popular anti virus software program. I even had everything setup to automatically download things, and to run scans automatically. This included the special scans that you can only run if you own the fully loaded version.

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In spite of all of this, I still got nailed with a nasty virus that required a professional’s help. Thankfully, my friend gave me a bit of advice and installed a free antivirus software package, along with a few other diagnostic tools. These are simple to use, and I have yet to have any problems so far. Remember that just because an antivirus tool is well-known doesn’t mean that it is the best for you. Hackers work hard to find ways around the most popular security software, because they know this will open up the most doors for them.

Don’t Blow Off Updates And Security Patches

Hey, I am just like everybody else. When I’m in the middle of streaming a movie or playing a game, I get annoyed when the Windows update message pops up in the bottom right corner of my screen. I do what everybody else does. I blow it off. Give me four more hours, and off I go back to whatever it was that I was doing.

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Now, I’m not going to tell anybody that they absolutely must reboot and update immediately. To be honest, in spite of my bad experience, I still don’t do that. Just be careful. Don’t delay updates for too long. They often contain important fixes that take care of security holes. You may not notice any changes when you update, but there are things going on behind the scenes that are making your pc or device safer.

If you have an update available that you have delayed, think twice before downloading or torrenting. Catch up your updates first, then download.

Practice Safe Torrenting

An article about safe downloading that doesn’t address torrenting is a bit like standing around a keg party and pretending nobody drinks beer. Most people torrent, and they don’t do so with any harmful intent. It’s simply a way of accessing great content.

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It’s also very harmful if you aren’t careful. So, be careful. A tool like Cloudload is great because it acts like a middle man. Instead of downloading files to your computer, simply send them to cloudload and access them there. This nearly eliminates the risk of something getting into the system files on your computer.

Be Careful When Being Redirected to Mirror Sites

There’s a reason why mirror sites exist, and for the most part they aren’t malicious. It’s simply a way for popular software and app publishers to ensure that they can meet consumer demand. However, as happened in my case, it is possible to get routed to a malicious site.

Sometimes that means becoming the recipient of a virus. Other times, you might wind up with not so helpful toolbars or other software. If you’ve ever downloaded something and found that your default home page changed, you know exactly what I am talking about.

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If you are able to, and you don’t mind waiting a little while, try to download directly from the publisher. It isn’t always an option, but is generally safer if you can.

Read The Reviews

This wouldn’t have helped in my case, but it’s still good advice. Before you download anything do your research, and don’t simply take the work of the company that makes the software. Read reviews form customers.

As you do your research, be sure to look at a variety of sites. Sponsored review sites and official company websites carefully curate the reviews that they publish. A healthy amount of skepticism is advised.

Check For App Updates Frequently

So, you’ve downloaded something, and it’s been working fine for you for a couple of months. That means you’re in the clear. Doesn’t it? Maybe not. While you’ve been enjoying your new app, hackers may have been working hard to figure out how to exploit any weaknesses.

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In many cases, publishers do a very good job of keeping up with this, and making updates available on the App store or Google play. Unfortunately, those do you absolutely no good unless you are willing to go out and find those updates.

Finally, take the time to go through your downloaded apps every once in awhile. If they are no longer available to download, there may have been a serious issue. Do some research and consider uninstalling.

Click The Right Download Button

We’ve all seen it before. You go to a download site, and it’s loaded with advertisements. Even worse, each one has its own ‘download now’ button. Of course, all of the buttons are virtually the same size and color.

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Clearly, it’s an attempt to confuse you into clicking on one of the advertiser’s links, instead of what you came for. The easiest and likely best thing to do at this point is to simply click away. After all, who wants to do business with a download site that operates that way. The only problem is that pretty much all of them work that way.

So, how do you determine which is the real download button? Try hovering over the link and checking out the URL. If the URL looks sketchy, don’t hit click the button. If it shows a javascript command, steer clear. Also, look for the ‘ad’ indicator near the button.

Don’t be afraid of downloading or torrenting. Just be safe. The tips listed above should help ensure that you can enjoy a variety of apps, games, and tools while still maintaining the health of your device.