Dangit! The power went out in the middle of the new episode of "Game of Thrones," leaving only half the episode on your DVR. Your friends are coming over tomorrow night for a watching party, so you decide to download the episode illegally -- just this once -- to save your shindig.
Everything's going well until you try to use your computer after the download. You get weird pop-ups; programs that normally open up instantly are acting sluggish, and then your whole computer crashes. Chances are you picked up some malware -- a computer virus, spyware, or other damaging software -- along with Tyrion Lannister's latest scheme.
How can you tell if you're opening up a legit download site or if the file you grabbed is packed with viruses? The short answer is that you can rarely be 100 percent certain a download itself is OK.
Think of peer to peer sites as big locker rooms: the site provides a place for individuals to share files, and the site owners don't monitor each file that a user uploads. Sure, the room itself could have hazards, but even at a reputable gym, the owner can't control what customers are keeping in every locker. If you want a truly safe download, you need to find not only a trustworthy site but remember that each file you download could contain malware.
Downloading files isn't the only way to get malware on your machine, though. Sometimes just loading a website can expose your computer to malicious software [source: Google]. This is sometimes called a "drive by download," because it happens without you doing anything but loading the website [source: Malware Prevention]. That means that before you download a thing, you should look for a trusted file-sharing site. Here are other some signals that should give you pause before you download: