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secure downloadingEven though it is frowned upon, lots of us download copyrighted content online – legally and otherwise – from questionable sources. Be it may via BitTorrent trackers, Usenet, IRC or file sharing forums, there is no dearth of shady distributors of pirated content online.

Why are so many people willing to offer pirated content to you? To ensure that everyone of us can enjoy over-priced & DRM-ridden copyrighted material? Yes and no. Except for a few, the rest have an ulterior motive for peddling malware & spyware.


Often times software downloaded from these shady sites are tampered with to include backdoors and malware. And in recent times, fake audio and video files in zipped archives which when extracted and played, download spyware in the guise of acquiring codecs.

For the unsuspecting soul who thinks a file downloaded for free is awesome, here is an an opportunity to learn about the digital trapdoors, ways to avoid them and how to verify if it is the real deal before installing so that you can enjoy secure downloading.

Install Proper Tools

Getting an anti-virus The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs Read More is the first line of defense and it is better to get the comprehensive internet security pack complete with a firewall The Three Best Free Firewalls for Windows The Three Best Free Firewalls for Windows Read More , anti-spyware etc. All of the downloaded files have to be scanned and make sure you have option to scan inside zipped archives turned on by default. Check out some free security tools here 7 Essential Security Downloads You MUST Have Installed 7 Essential Security Downloads You MUST Have Installed Read More .

Secondly, use the most recent version of either Firefox or Chrome. Both the browsers have a fabulous built-in domain name checking engine. If there is a site that hosts & distributes malware, they are blocked and you will be shown a warning.

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When you see either one of the following screens, find an alternate URL to download. If you want to be more immune to harmful sites consider installing some Firefox security addons 10+ Best Firefox Security and Privacy Addons 10+ Best Firefox Security and Privacy Addons Read More .

secure downloads

secure downloading

Using Internet Explorer (definitely not IE 6) or Opera is alright but lack of security plugins takes them to the bottom of my list.

Find the Right Source

Pirating a copyrighted content is not a gimmick that every Tom, Dick and Harry can do. It needs exclusive access to pre-release material and some ninja reverse-engineering tricks. They are called SCENE groups and there are plenty of iconic names specializing in only one of the verticals (say movies, TV shows, software, games etc.).

Their first point of release would be leading Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, Usenet groups and Bittorrent trackers. Pointing you towards those sources is not exactly ethical and hence you should do some searching to find the right source.

secure downloads

For example, if you are looking for a TV show from a popular Bittorrent tracker, find the torrent files with the highest number of seeds and find who uploaded it. Check their track record, how long they have been uploading torrent files and most importantly if they have a verified account there. Checking the comments section of the torrent file also will save you a lot of time and bandwidth.

secure downloads

In the case of forums, find the ones with a lot of members and threads. It’s extremely easy to begin a file sharing forum and distribute malware. Also, make sure to get the links from threads started by moderators or long serving members with a significant number of posts and reputation points.

Verify File Integrity

SCENE groups in almost all cases add a checksum file to check the integrity of the file. Checksum is like a unique digital signature of a file generated using algorithms to indicate that the file is its intended form.

Now if the file is tampered with, the checksums will not match the ones that were originally generated. Even a tiny change like renaming a file will result in the checksum error. Some of the common checksum formats are EXF, MD5, SHA, SFV.

safe downloading tips

To verify the integrity of files using checksum, we will need a free tool like Exactfile. While installing, keep all the checksum formats to be associated checked as it makes it easy to run the verification in just a single click.

Once you have downloaded the file, scan for viruses and extract it. Now, since we have associated all the common checksum file formats to Exactfile, just click on the file with the Exactfile logo (a stylish X) and the file verification will begin.

secure downloading

As you can see, I renamed a file from the same folder and a error is shown after the verification. So you can be confident that the file is in its original form released by the reliable SCENE group and you are good to go.

Final Thoughts

I strongly suggest you to verify file integrity when it comes downloading software from questionable sources. And if you opt to download scripts & server software, I can assure that you will be exposed to serious danger if the files are installed without any verification.

I would not delve into preaching mode by saying that it is illegal & unethical to download pirated files. It’s a judgment call to be made by the individual, however, reckless pirating does hurt the developer/creator ecosystem which is definitely a bad thing. If you like the material you downloaded, fork out a few bucks to support the one who spent a chunk of life creating it in the first place.

Is there a tip you would like to share with the rest of us to escape from malware-ridden content?

  1. rikiki
    August 31, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Actually Userscripts and Customs Buttons(that can do things to the browser itself: operawiki.info/CustomButtons) are Opera's "plugins". Security stuff like domain names checking, WOT etc are found in userscripts and userscripts can be checked with an online current list so it won't be outdated. These userscripts can also be used with Firefox and Chrome. Those userscripts do almost the same thing as the plugins but plugins slows your browser.

  2. Ibrahim Ali
    July 29, 2010 at 4:21 am

    Also after downloading if you're still get freaked out by all these malware, virus, etc -- then use sandboxie or install virtual box -- or (a better solution in my view) if u have the know-how add a hard-drive and install ubuntu on it and do dual booting (i.e. try all the suspicious videos inside Linux).

    • Mohan Ramkumar
      July 29, 2010 at 6:53 am

      Those are couple of smart ideas Ibrahim.

  3. Steve Campbell
    July 26, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Mohan. You've successfully demonstrated how to participate in these activities safely, which might save a lot of computers out there.

  4. mohanramkumar
    July 27, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Never said anything about Opera being insecure. I have clearly stated that the lack of additional plugins make it less favorable.

    Their walled garden and forbidden fruit approach towards third party plugins is the one that has earned them a negligible market share.

  5. Opera Defender
    July 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I think you should remove your slurring comment in regard to Opera's security. You lost any credit as someone to listen to if you can say that Opera isn't secure. Have you actually used it? .. and I mean used it, not just had a little play. I could go on and on but I wouldn't wanna be labelled as an Opera Fanboy .. but I have been using Opera for well over 10 years, and it has always been so far above other browsers in regard to security .. it's an area they take very seriously.

    • Mohan Ramkumar
      July 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Never said anything about Opera being insecure. I have clearly stated that the lack of additional plugins make it less favorable.

      Their walled garden and forbidden fruit approach towards third party plugins is the one that has earned them a negligible market share.

  6. Marta Daniels
    July 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks for the info, I never really thought about security while downloading.I use Chrome (love Chrome) so is good to hear that they have my back to some degree. God bless!

    • Mohan Ramkumar
      July 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      Glad to be of help. :)

  7. LeechPack
    July 26, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Best way to make sure you are downloading a "clean" file is by only downloading "verified" torrents and always checking the comments from the community. There are several malware/adware bundles that may not be recognized by some anti-virus, as they change very often. A network sniffer like: http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/s... may be a great option if you suspect something's going on behind the scenes.

  8. Atle Iversen
    July 26, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Also, due to (unfortunately for Opera) the low marketshare, Opera is not a very prioritized target for "the bad guys".

    And I believe the built-in security of Opera is (on average) better than Firefox, Chrome and IE ! Opera is actually making a living and depending 100% on the success of the Opera browser.

  9. Atle Iversen
    July 26, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Also, due to (unfortunately for Opera) the low marketshare, Opera is not a very prioritized target for "the bad guys".

    And I believe the built-in security of Opera is (on average) better than Firefox, Chrome and IE ! Opera is actually making a living and depending 100% on the success of the Opera browser.

    • Mohan Ramkumar
      July 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm

      It's true that Opera is a pretty solid browser. But built in browser security can only take you so long. Plugins bulletproof the browser & PC as well from a lot of threats.

      • rikiki
        August 31, 2010 at 4:33 pm

        Actually Userscripts and Customs Buttons(that can do things to the browser itself: operawiki.info/CustomButtons) are Opera's "plugins". Security stuff like domain names checking, WOT etc are found in userscripts and userscripts can be checked with an online current list so it won't be outdated. These userscripts can also be used with Firefox and Chrome. Those userscripts do almost the same thing as the plugins but plugins slows your browser.

  10. Yousef
    July 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Aw come on, that was a low blow to Opera. Opera has every bit of good security that Firefox or Chrome has. It's alerted me to sites that may not be safe the same as the other two.

    • Mohan Ramkumar
      July 26, 2010 at 10:14 pm

      I am not saying Opera is insecure. Lack of additional plugins brought their rank below Chrome & FF.

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