The Perils And Pitfalls Of Your Free Internet

The Internet is a vast wonderland of free sites and services, a glorious cornucopia of software and information donated through the kindness of others who expect nothing in return. Unlike the real world, there is no deceit, no scams or greed-driven conspirators trying to make a buck at your expense. The Internet is a virtual field of green pastures where no one and nothing can do you harm.

If only that were the case.

As most of us already know the Internet is not a Xanadu of technological gifts we’re entitled to. It’s the back alley of any metropolis where danger can be lurking under the guise of a friendly clown face or actively seeking you out with claws and fangs exposed. The Internet is not a safe place.

But even though most of us already know this, we continue to make mistakes in our daily computing lives that put our systems and privacy at risk. It simply is not enough to run antivirus software and make sure we have the most recent Microsoft updates. You have to proactively counter those out there looking for a foothold, a moment of weakness where you let your guard down and expose yourself.

The following are a few things you can do to immediately improve your computer security.

Read What You’re Installing

Be aware that free software can often come at a steep price. Many sites and services that were once free have adopted the model of bundling “hidden” payloads in their downloads. You will often unintentionally install this payload. A prime example of this was recently discovered by a forum member on our site while he was installing Imgburn–a program many forum members have promoted and championed over the years. Read the post here.

imgburn

When attempting to install the freeware program Imgburn, we are presented with the screen above. You have been trained over the years to click OK and Accept as fast as possible to install the program you downloaded. In this case, clicking Accept through the next several screens will also load several browser toolbars, registry scanners and annoying backup programs. You didn’t want these things on your computer. Your original intent was to download the popular program Imgburn. But you decided to click through the prompts without reading what you were installing and now your homepage has been changed, you have extra toolbars mucking up your browser and other processes are running behind the scenes, slowing your computer down.

Let’s be clear on a couple of things: Imgburn is not installing malware on your system.

mysearchdial

These are programs that can be removed from your system via the Programs and Features menu in the control panel.

Also, this is just an example. There are many, many other download sites using this type of advertising to make money. It’s their right to do so. But you need to be careful when downloading “free” software. Read the prompts and click Decline or un-check boxes when appropriate. In most cases you will still be able to install the software you intended without the added bloatware.

Download From The Correct Site

Not only is it important to read what you’re installing after downloading a free program, it’s also important to get the download from the correct source. If you do a Google search for a program it’s quite possible the top listing will be “randomhackersite.com” and not the real publisher of the application you want to install. In most cases, the top listing will be the correct one, but just be wary.

Stop Running As Administrator

It’s your PC, so you should have the right to install anything you want, whenever you want, right? Sure. But while running primarily as Administrator gives you elevated rights to do whatever you want, it also give malware and hackers elevated rights when your system is compromised.

Running as a Standard user still gives you the ability to install programs. You will simply need to put in your admin password. It’s quick and easy, and it puts another layer between you and malware.

To run as standard user, do the following:

  1. Create a NEW admin account. Give it a username and password you will remember.
  2. Log out of your current account, and then log into the new admin account.
  3. Go into the User Account settings and change your old Administrator account to a Standard user.
  4. Log out of your admin account and then log into the Standard account. Your desktop, favorites and other files will still be there because this is the same user profile you had always been using. The only difference now is you no longer have admin rights.

In Conclusion

The Internet is evolving and you need to evolve with it. In most cases, you are your worst enemy when it comes to security. Continue doing all of the things you’ve been doing to protect your computer, such as running a current anti-virus and installing the latest Microsoft updates. But also be extremely careful when installing applications you think are free. Using the tips above should help keep your computer free of viruses and other unintended software.