Everyone enjoys getting things at no cost and computer software is certainly no exception. Purchasing software, even from an online store, can be expensive since upgraded versions are constantly entering the market. It is preferable, at least in the eyes of most people, to download the software for free from independent Internet sites. Software that has been downloaded for free from independent sites presents many threats to a computer. This is because the sites are often left unattended and unmonitored for days or even weeks, which leaves them vulnerable to malicious activity. In addition, the owners of these independent websites are not concerned for the safety of their customers and not very scrupulous about who their sponsors are.
The first and most obvious threat is the possibility of downloading a Trojan. A Trojan is a specially designed piece of code that can conceal computer viruses from firewalls. When inspected, the Trojan looks like a legitimate program and is granted passage by the firewall. After passing through the firewall, the virus can be executed from within the system. Trojans can also be used to create security vulnerabilities and allow access to third-party users. The best way to protect a system from Trojans is to download a firewall that performs deep packet inspection. This means that the package and its contents, rather than just the package, are examined by the firewall. Such firewalls are, however, quite costly and take up a lot of memory.
Another hazard associated with free software downloads is that they may contain spyware. Users may download spyware without even realizing it, since spyware is not mentioned in user agreements. This type of hazardous software is used illicitly to monitor people as they surf the Internet. Spyware can cause a computer to run extremely slowly, alter system configurations and even allow unauthorized third parties to access the system. Thus, while it can easily be removed by commercially available anti-spyware programs, spyware represents another hazard of downloading software for free.
A third problem with free software from independent sites is that it is often used to create a back door for adware, rendering the system vulnerable to pop-up ads and banner ads from other companies’ websites. Companies are allowed to use adware to track individual activity for marketing purposes. The user cannot surf the Internet without picking up thousands of ads, which can also affect a system’s processing speed. Additionally, adware can be combined with spyware to trick a user into revealing confidential information. Unlike spyware, adware requires user consent and is mentioned in user agreements; however, these agreements are often ignored because they are long and difficult to read. If adware is downloaded, it can be removed by deleting the free software.
Not all free software is bad. There are a number of companies dedicated to providing users with a free, safe way to surf the Internet. Some examples are AVG, Avira and Avast. Other companies allow users to experience their products by offering free versions of their product. While it doesn’t have as many features, Microsoft’s OpenOffice is a free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite. Users should research companies before accepting their free software offers. There are, however, verified sources of freeware, such as CNET, that are monitored and inspected daily. Downloading from these sources is completely safe.