Security Windows

The 7 Worst Places for Downloading Windows Software

Joel Lee 26-05-2016

Malware is the bane of the Internet. Seriously, few things on the web are as dangerous as contracting malware, and few things are as time-consuming as the process of malware removal The Complete Malware Removal Guide Malware is everywhere these days, and eradicating malware from your system is a lengthy process, requiring guidance. If you think your computer is infected, this is the guide you need. Read More . Avoid at all cost.


But here’s the thing about malware: It’s not enough to install a top-notch security suite The 5 Best Free Internet Security Software for Windows Need antivirus, anti-malware, and real-time security? Here are the best free internet security software for Windows. Read More . You’ll have to change your bad security habits Change Your Bad Habits & Your Data Will Be More Secure Read More and start doing what the experts do 8 Tips for Online Safety Used by Security Experts Want to stay safe online? Then forget everything you think you know about passwords, antivirus and online security because it's time to be retrained. Here's what the experts actually do. Read More .

And if there’s one habit that you must kill as soon as possible, it’s the carefree downloading of software from any and all sites. Today, free software download sites are one of the most common sources of bloatware and even malware.

1. CNET Download

Go around and ask people what they think of CNET Download — the site formerly known as — and most of them will probably tell you to stay away. You should heed that advice if you know what’s good for you.

CNET Download has been around since 1996, making it 20 years old at the time of this writing. It used to be the most popular download destination on the web, but in those two decades, the site has really gone downhill.



In 2011, the site introduced a download manager program called CNET TechTracker that was allegedly full of toolbars and bloatware, which was so bad that it was eventually flagged by security suites. Then in 2015, malware was found to be bundled with their installer files.

Can you download files safely from CNET Download? Yes, you can, but it’s risky. Few people trust CNET Download anymore and using the site is akin to crossing a minefield. Your next step could be your last.

2. Tucows

Tucows is another free download site in the vein of CNET Download. What’s funny is that Tucows is actually older than CNET Download — by about three years. Started in 1993, Tucows is one of the oldest download sites in the world.

In 2008, Tucows announced that they would be shifting focus away from software downloads to diversify their business. It would go on to launch the Ting mobile service network The Best US Cellular Data Plans for Your Smartphone Though mobile phones have improved over the years, cellular plans have either stayed the same or gotten worse. Luckily, we've found the best deals for US smartphone users. Read More , among other business ventures.



Since shifting focus, Tucows has been involved in a few malware-related incidents. For example, in 2010, it served malvertisements to visitors. And in 2015, Emsisoft found that Tucows served the most potentially unwanted programs with its downloads.

We recommend staying away. There are better sites out there with more up-to-date repositories and less malware to worry about.

3. Softonic

Not to be confused with Softpedia, which is mostly reputable for what it is, Softonic is another ancient download site that has been around for a long time — since 1997 — and it’s actually foreign, based in Spain.


Starting in 2009, Softonic spearheaded several different distribution models, including the Softonic Toolbar and the Softonic Downloader. Even when users opted out, they were blasted with these kinds of unwanted programs, which is why Softonic has such a poor reputation now.


In 2015, the co-founder of CNET Download became the new CEO of Softonic. The Toolbar and Downloader were immediately dismantled and the site promised to dedicate itself to clean and safe software, but it’s still too early to tell.

Considering how poorly CNET Download has performed in terms of delivering clean and safe software, we recommend treating Softonic with similar caution and avoiding it until the site proves itself and walks the talk.


4. Public Torrent Trackers

Despite what a lot of people think, torrenting itself isn’t actually illegal. Indeed, there are plenty of legal torrents out there How to Find Legal Torrents Online: The Best Sources Here are all the best online sources to find legal torrents. With these, you can download lots of content for free! Read More and they’re all valid and legitimate. But let’s be real: if you torrent, you’re probably doing it illegally.

We don’t condone the practice, but if you are going to download torrents, heed this warning. Public torrent tracker sites Top 10 Free Torrent Alternatives to The Pirate Bay The Pirate Bay is a shadow of its former self. Head to these sites for some of the best Pirate Bay alternatives for free torrents. Read More like ThePirateBay may contain malware.


For example, malvertising is a big concern What Is Malvertising and How Can You Prevent It? Malvertising is on the rise! Learn more about what is it, why it's dangerous, and how can you stay safe from this online threat. Read More where advertisements are used to distribute malware. Malware can also exist inside fake torrent downloads. If you download a movie and it says you need to install a special video codec, that “codec” is probably malware.

According to a 2015 study, users are 28 times more likely to contract malware from torrent sites than mainstream websites.

Long story short, torrents are risky. The risk goes down if you switch to using private torrent trackers The Best 3 Private Torrent Trackers That You Should Be Invited To Just like the good old Napster days though, public torrent sites and trackers are riddled with trojans and other garbage. The best way to enjoy your filesharing experience is getting an invite to one of... Read More but even those can be dangerous, if you aren’t careful.

5. File Hosting Services

Piracy exists in many forms. Torrenting is the most controversial and public form, of course, but file hosting sites make up a huge chunk of the piracy realm. Remember the now-defunct MegaUpload? Why MegaUpload, And Who's Next? In the middle of some very aggressive anti-SOPA/PIPA protests, the feds managed to prove that they don't need to pass such a bill to pull the plug on a certain internet website. The casualty this... Read More Yeah, those sites.

Like torrent sites, file hosting sites are prone to malvertising attacks and downloads that contain malware, but they also have a third form of malware distribution: the fake download button.


We’ve all seen it before. You search for a pirated copy of a book or music album, for example, and arrive at a site like Turbobit or HugeFiles — only to see DOWNLOAD HERE all over the place. Here’s a good rule of thumb:

The bigger the download button, the faker it is.

We’ve written before on how to spot and avoid fake download buttons How to Avoid Fake Ads Disguised as Fake Download Links Fake ads disguised as download links are all over the web. Here are some vital tips to avoid ads designed to trick you. Read More but these tricksters are constantly evolving and getting more deceptive. The only foolproof way to protect yourself is to avoid file hosting sites altogether.

6. Warez Exchange Forums

This one is sort of a corollary to the point directly above, but you should avoid warez sites as much as you can. For those who don’t know, warez are a form of piracy that mainly involves cracked software.


Warez are usually exchanged within a community, though these communities can be publicly accessible through search engines. Most often, warez exchanges exist as forums but use various file hosting services for the actual sharing.

The threats are the same here: malvertising, fake warez, and infected warez downloads.

7. The Windows Store

There are so many reasons not to use the Windows Store. The lack of many important and popular apps Can Microsoft's Desktop App Converter Save the Windows Store? Soon you will be able to download legacy software from the Windows Store. Desktop App Converter can turn Windows applications into a Universal Windows Platform application. The Windows Store could finally be useful! Read More is a huge downside, but there’s also a plethora of dead and abandoned apps How Dead Apps Are Drowning the Windows Store Dead apps are everywhere in the Windows Store. Why are apps abandoned, how does it affect users, and how could Microsoft solve this dilemma? We analyze the sad state of the Windows Store. Read More that simply don’t work anymore.

But most of all, it seems as if the Windows Store isn’t as impervious to malware as once hoped.


The two biggest selling points of the Windows Store are: one, it’s highly regulated to filter out scamware and malware, and two, apps run in a sandbox to prevent them from gaining access to system files and processes.

Well, we’ve known for a while that the Windows Store is full of scamware and deceptive apps Don't Be Fooled! 5 Tips To Avoid Fake Apps In The Windows Store The Windows Store has been spoiled by useless junkware and scams. Microsoft recently purged many fake apps, but the store still features questionable apps. We show you how not to get scammed. Read More , but the sandbox aspect has been pretty good… up until now, at least.

Not long ago, ZDNet discovered a Windows Store app that used an in-app advertisement to download unwanted software. Microsoft is doing its best to solve this security hole, but for now, you may want to avoid downloading anything from the Windows Store.

Which Download Sites Do You Avoid?

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s an important starting point. Too many sites out there can deliver malicious trojans and worms 7 Types of Computer Viruses to Watch Out For and What They Do Many types of computer viruses can steal or destroy your data. Here are some of the most common viruses and what they do. Read More to your computer and it’s your duty to be wary and vigilant. You can turn to the safest software download sites The Safest Free Software Download Sites for Windows Many software download sites are loaded with malware. We compiled websites you can trust when you need a free software download. Read More , but they’re not perfect, either. Do remain cautious!

What should you do when you discover malware on your system? Follow our step-by-step guide to fighting a malware infection 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More .

Now you tell us: which nasty download sites do you avoid at all cost? What’s the worst bit of malware you’ve ever contracted? Share with us down in the comments!

Related topics: Install Software, Malware, Ransomware, Spyware.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Ken
    August 8, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    Torrents are not evil. Distrowatch and LibreOffice both use torrents. It is the content, and not the container, that makes it legal or not. That is like saying anyone who uses Linux has something to hide. Nah. We like a system that is less vulnerable to crap programs and malicious code. Not impregnable, but stronger. Windows has done more damage with an update than most viruses have. People need to just pay attention. Learn about this stuff more. If you own a car, you learn how to work on it. If you have a computer, then learn about the dangers, and be smart enough to avoid them. Learn what a sandbox is. Use it if you question the program. VM. Find out what it is. Soon you will know who to trust and who to avoid. Nuff said.

  2. 0s1r1s
    June 13, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Soft32 should also get a dishonourable mention. The scumware is strong with them too.

  3. Rod
    June 6, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Snapfiles is one I've used. I miss the PC Utilities magazine.

  4. Rod
    June 6, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Snapfiles is one I've used. Miss the PC Utilities magazine. Great source for apps and reviews.

  5. Trotter
    June 6, 2017 at 11:48 am for the win. These guys install and test everything before it is posted to their site, and if anything changes they flag it and will pull it if it is warranted. Besides the developer's site itself it is my go to destination.

    • cliff
      June 6, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Major geeks is one of the worst if you ask me. I have had several malwares added to my downloads from there in last two years. I wont use them at all anymore.

  6. Anonymous
    August 18, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Windows Help-desk customer service phone number +1–844–445-4480 this is for united states for other countries you may also contact through skype and by this number

    Microsoft Northern California District

    555 California, Suite 200
    San Francisco, CA 94104
    Phone:(844) 445-4480
    Fax:(415) 896-1458

  7. Anonymous
    July 18, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Google the app you need and go directly to developer's site :)

  8. Archie
    July 9, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    What about browser extensions ?
    How do you know which are safe and which are not ?

    • Joel Lee
      July 13, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      That's much tougher, I'm afraid. Usually you'll have to rely on user reviews and news sites, but unless the extension is open source, you can never really know.

  9. Joel Lee
    June 1, 2016 at 2:04 am

    Oh nice! Always good to see sites try to turn their bad practices around. Same thing with Sourceforge recently!

  10. Gary Gemmell
    May 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I like filehippo never had a problem and great autoupdater!

    • Joel Lee
      June 1, 2016 at 2:06 am

      Seems like FileHippo is very hit or miss (lots like it, lots hate it) but as long as you avoid their optional download tool, you should be safe. Thanks for sharing Gary!

      • Anonymous
        June 1, 2016 at 12:49 pm

        I've used FileHippo for many years. Never even knew they had an optional download tool. :)

        Of the seven you mention, I have used only #1,2 & 3 and never had any problems with toolbars or malware. But then, I download only the .exe for the program I'm interested in. When using Windows, I have never used any programs that check software versions and automatically update to the latest one.

        In Linux it is a different story since I download only from the official distro repositories. I use Synaptic because it automatically resolves any dependencies.

  11. Anonymous
    May 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm


    • Anonymous
      May 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      two #5?

  12. Jon Slack
    May 27, 2016 at 8:23 am

    There is only ever one place from which to download software - the developer's site. End of.

    • Joel Lee
      June 1, 2016 at 2:05 am

      Agreed, Jon. I always do that when I can. However a lot of people use download sites as a way to find new software too! That's when things can get tricky.

    • asdf
      June 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      often, it's full of bloatware even the developer's site edition

  13. CLM
    May 27, 2016 at 5:31 am

    So what are some safe download sites?

  14. Anonymous
    May 26, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    A - The VERSIONTRACKER DOWNLOAD CNET Site Always Has A Link To The...

    B - ...Original Developers Site.


    C - Use ( A ) To Do Your Research,

    D - Use ( B ) To Download The Latest Version, And You Get...

    ...The Best Of Both Worlds.

    Problem Solved.


    • Mark Davies
      August 29, 2017 at 3:55 am

      Good one!

      • A41202813GMAIL
        August 30, 2017 at 1:21 pm

        ( My UserName Disappeared On Old Posts - I Do Not Know Why )



  15. Anonymous
    May 26, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    There are some blogs that link to CNET Download when they write about a software program. I prefer to download software from the publishers website.

  16. Jon Green
    May 26, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    "[Softonic is] actually foreign, based in Spain."

    Love the racism there. Nice one. I'm guessing the writer of this article is American. Well, see here, pal: where you live is foreign to more than 95% of the world's population, and a site being hosted in the States is no kind of guarantee of probity.

    • Eric
      May 27, 2016 at 12:23 am

      So now if you state that anything is from a foreign country, that makes you a racist? By you stating that the writer is "probably American", I would say that makes you racist! There has always one in the crowd that reads something into something that isn't there. See you next Tuesday!

      • Jon Green
        May 28, 2016 at 3:19 pm

        No, my comments were based upon the fact that the writer mentioned several US-based websites without comment, then idenfied another, Softonic, as "foreign". Now, if they'd simply said, "[Softonic is] based in Spain", that would be factual, and independent of the nationality of the writer - although I'd still question whether it's relevant to the discussion.

        But the use of the word "foreign" stronly implies xenophobia on the part of the writer - as if Spanish websites (or organizations) were inherently less trustworthy than US ones.

        For the record, I'm neither North American, nor do I have any significant connections to Spain - but in the face of the present rise of the more dangerous forms of nationalism globally, I feel that xenophobia should be identified and challenged, for everyone's sake.

        • Anonymous
          June 1, 2016 at 12:14 pm

          "But the use of the word “foreign” stronly implies xenophobia on the part of the writer"
          So, in your interpretation, the word FOREIGN, means "racist". That interpretation is foreign to the vast majority of English speakers. Only an oversensitive person looking to start a fight would come up with that meaning of the word.

    • Jd0x
      May 27, 2016 at 2:23 am

      I think he just wanted to say that unlike the other websites of the top, Softonic is not american (where he lives). I live on a country that I would say 80% of the world don't know about its existance.

    • StoJa
      May 27, 2016 at 3:53 am

      Holy shit pal...CALM. DOWN. Wow.

    • Ivan
      May 27, 2016 at 5:46 am

      The problem with the paragraph about Softonic is not that, but that he didn't even bothered to check if there is any download manager or toolbar at all, which there isn't. He says to let them walk the talk, but he didn't do it yourself.

      I've worked there for almost 10 years and even I always hated and always will hate the toolbars managers and such, they are gone now and a very intensive work have been done cleaning other third party hazards (the ones coming from evil developers etc).

      Anyway, I don't work there anymore and I don't give a crap about it. For all I care, always go to the original developer website, but stay alert nonetheless. That's the right thing to do.

    • Phil
      May 27, 2016 at 8:26 am

      Second that.

    • Tina Sieber
      May 27, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for the reality-check, Jon.

      The MakeUseOf team is dispersed across the globe, with writers and editors from five different continents. MakeUseOf itself is not based in the US; it was legally based in the UK for many years, before being transferred to Hong Kong. The founders are not American, either.

      Nevertheless, the majority of our readers happens to be based in the US. This is something we are very aware of and have adapted to over the years. Maybe a little too thoroughly. :)

      • Jon Green
        May 28, 2016 at 3:21 pm

        Thank you for your sober and well-considered response, Tina; I appreciate it.

  17. Michael
    May 26, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Ok, that is hysterical. Approved scam spam on a forum about safe downloads. Sorry, but it's funny.

    • Tina Sieber
      May 27, 2016 at 11:14 am

      The spam comment has been removed. Thanks for the heads-up!

      • Michael Myers
        May 28, 2016 at 2:17 am

        You rock. :) I could've said that in a less sarcastic sounding way.

  18. Digital Wonderbread
    May 26, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    I like #4 the most.

  19. Anonymous
    May 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    "Microsoft is doing its best to solve this security hole"
    Are you trying to make a funny, Joel? MS is probably complicit in the advertising. Either they place the ads themselves or they take money from advertisers to place the ads. With MS's past record of security (or lack thereof) and of tracking its users, I would not believe anything they say.

    • Joel Lee
      June 1, 2016 at 2:04 am

      Microsoft has made a lot of mistakes but I don't think it's fair to accuse them of being complicit. :P