It Doesn't Pass the Pro Tests
Still not sure if the download site you're looking at is legit? You can get proactive! Check up on that Web site before you click.
There are services out there that will analyze a URL and tell you if it's blacklisted or contains malicious content. These services work in one of two ways. Some of them look at past data about the website -- if it's on any blacklists, for example -- to determine whether it's safe. Others actually scan the website on the spot to see if it contains malware. IT pro Lenny Zeltser has a list of tools that you can use to look up any website to find out if it's legit. Just go to any of the sites on his list, type in the download site's address, and see what results you get.
You can also see what other people are saying about the download site that you're considering. You'll find reviews and discussion about more reputable download sites like BitTorrent and Usenet, but chances are totallyawesomedownloads.biz won't get a mention. The trick here is to stick to reliable sources like PC Magazine, Mac World, CNET, ZDNET, and Tech Crunch. If you can't find mentions of the download site you want to use on any of these tech resources, you might want to do a little more Googling before you visit the site or download anything from it.
While download sites might be more likely to contain malicious software, pretty much any site on the Web has the potential to infect your computer. You should take extra care when you're browsing download sites, but really any time you're visiting an unfamiliar website for the first time, caution is key.
Author's Note: 5 Signs that Download Site Isn't Legit
File sharing and media downloads really aren't my thing. I think the last time I downloaded free music was back in college during the original Napster days, and who knows what viruses my roommates and I unknowingly installed on our Gateway computers at the time. Luckily, I had a few anonymous sources for this article that pointed me towards a few reputable download sites that they trust and shared some common pitfalls when you're doing any kind of peer to peer file sharing.
You can consider this author's note a bonus tip on how to download free media safely: bribe a savvy friend into doing it for you. Save your computer and barter some homemade cupcakes for the files you want, because -- as you probably gleaned from this article -- if you don't know what you're doing, downloading files from the Internet is pretty risky.
- Bandcamp. "Features." (August 6, 2012) http://bandcamp.com/features/
- Emisoft. "May 21st the end of the world? (But malware still alive!)" May 18, 2011. (August 6, 2012) http://blog.emsisoft.com/2011/05/18/end-of-the-world-may-21st-but-malware-still-alive
- Geier, Eric. "How to Remove Malware from Your Windows PC." PC World. November 15, 2011. (Aug. 21, 2012) http://www.pcworld.com/article/243818/how_to_remove_malware_from_your_windows_pc.html
- Google. "Malware." Stay Safe Online. (Aug. 6, 2012) http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/online-safety/malware/
- Ma, J. "Identifying Suspicious URLs: An Application of Large-Scale Online Learning." Department of Science & Computer Engineering, UC San Diego. 2009. (Aug. 6, 2012) https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:UTPe80Z6KkIJ:cseweb.ucsd.edu/~voelker/pubs/mal-URL-icml09.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESg7fHTmeg4toh9ThJb1aW89Ks3rvuSEvdTu0Afrb8rdF8crd4w2Yoc9v43nyBLatbsI51aquFqugeoFtojTn6Hbe83RBLhckrQM7JZj7fQuLPP3h5jZPRFNW9pnvM7MTaHqCs97&sig=AHIEtbTBzAANG4DrtX6WIe7PZ7ug2801JQ
- Malware Prevention. "Malware Prevention and Avoidance" (Aug. 6, 2012) http://www.malwarevault.com/prevention.html
- Malware Prevention. "OK so how does malware end up on a computer?" (Aug. 6, 2012) http://www.malwarevault.com/ways.html
- Provos, Niels. "All About Safe Browsing." The Chromium Blog. Jan. 31, 2012. (Aug. 6, 2012) http://blog.chromium.org/2012/01/all-about-safe-browsing.html
- University of Rochester. "Illegal Downloading – How Can You Avoid Digital Piracy?" Security Tip of the Week Archive. (Aug. 6, 2012) http://www.rochester.edu/its/security/securitytipofweek_archive.html#yourself37
- Zeltser, Lenny. "Free Online Tools for Looking Up Potentially Malicious Websites." (Aug. 6, 2012) http://zeltser.com/combating-malicious-software/lookup-malicious-websites.html
Google is redesigning the way we use email. HowStuffWorks delves into the changes.