How Not To Get Stung By Any Dodgy Malware-Ridden Downloads

Mark O'Neill 26-08-2016

Back in 2000, when I was discovering the delights of the internet for the first time, I was downloading everything in sight. From “official” downloads to stuff that was downright suspicious, I was downloading and installing with reckless abandon.


Then my now-wife ran a virus check and discovered I had infected her machine with 12 Trojan horse viruses What Is The Difference Between A Worm, A Trojan & A Virus? [MakeUseOf Explains] Some people call any type of malicious software a "computer virus," but that isn't accurate. Viruses, worms, and trojans are different types of malicious software with different behaviors. In particular, they spread themselves in very... Read More . I was punished to no-internet for the rest of the day — and to sit in the corner of the room.


Installed software has kind of fallen by the wayside in recent times, with the advance of cloud technology and smartphone apps. But there is still software which we may want to have on our machines, whether it is a word processing suite like LibreOffice Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? LibreOffice is the king of free office suites. It's unlikely to replace Microsoft Office in a business environment, but it's an excellent alternative for casual users. Here's what's new in LibreOffice 5.1. Read More or a cleaning app such as CCleaner Optimize Your System To Run At Its Best With CCleaner Over the last two years, CCleaner has changed quite a bit in terms of version numbers...up now to version 3.10 at the time of this writing. While visually the program actually hasn't changed much (it's... Read More .

But if you want to avoid the viruses, malware, crapware, and bloatware, then you need to be ultra-cautious about your download sources. And what does crapware and bloatware mean anyway?

First, Some Essential Definitions….

Malware (Malicious Software)

Malware 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 (also called “spyware”) is any software which has things like unwanted advertising (pop-ups for example), or anything which wants to gain access to sensitive information about you. Malware can also include viruses, Trojan horses How To Get Rid Of A Trojan Horse Virus That Won't Go Away Read More , and rootkits.



If you think you have malware on your system, you can run a malware checker such as MalwareBytes Stop & Delete Spyware With Malwarebytes for Windows It may not be as feature-laden as Spybot Search and Destroy, which has a ridiculous number of tools, but it is a very lightweight alternative with good spyware coverage. Read More or SpyBot Search & Destroy Spybot - Search & Destroy: The Simple, Yet Effective Route For Cleaning Your PC Of Malware With the ever-growing list of threats out there, one can never be too cautious. Sure you can watch what websites you visit and what you download, but even with those precautions, you should have some... Read More . Both are extremely good, with both free and paid versions.

Crapware & Bloatware

Any software that pre-installs itself without your permission can be described in this way. Many free software developers are notorious for doing this, and they rely on lazy people to just click the “next” button quickly while installing, without looking properly. Suddenly you have new search pages, toolbars, virus checkers, and other crap you didn’t ask for.



One company which is notorious for doing this is DVDVideoSoft. Their software is excellent but they try to sneak extra crapware in through the back door. As I said, if you just keep pressing “next” without looking, it would be very easy to have all this crap installed on your PC. We’ve also previously looked at the underhand installation tactics of NCH Software What's the Problem With NCH Software & How to Remove It? NCH Software has cleaned up its act over the past few years, but is it enough? Here's what you should know about whether NCH Software is safe and worth using. Read More .


This is software provided to the user, who is encouraged to share it with others. Payment is encouraged and licenses may be required if the software is to be used in a commercial business setting.


There are many different types of shareware. These include trialware, freemium, nagware, crippleware, and donationware. The names kind of speak for themselves when figuring out what they are. But just in case:

  • Trialware is software with a free trial before needing to pay.
  • Freemium is free, but you have to pay for advanced features.
  • Nagware is software that nags you constantly to buy a license (a bit like WinRAR!).
  • Crippleware is when the vital features are all disabled until you buy a license. You can inspect the software for free but not be able to use it until you pay up.
  • Finally, donationware is when you can use the software freely, but you are told a donation to the developer would be appreciated for their hard work.



The easiest one of all. It’s free to use. Completely. Forever. However, a lot of freeware may contain malware, so you need to exercise extreme caution.

Locations To Avoid When Installing Free Software

Back in April, Joel talked about the best places to find free software 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 . Here, I’m going to turn the whole thing on its head and discuss places to avoid. (CNET)

Things over at CNET have got a bit better recently, but remains a big mess. Very intrusive adverts start blaring out on your speakers, and software is nearly always bundled with crapware, such as this “Driver Booster” app.



Quite frankly, stay away from CNET. You might catch something that you will find hard to get rid of.

Brothersoft [Broken URL Removed]

This one was quite an eye-opener. Multiple broken links for various pieces of software, and when I installed one of them, my virus checker told me I had spyware!


Incorrect grammar across the site was not reassuring either.


To be fair, Snapfiles does warn you when the software in question has crapware, and it gives you a link to its policy page on the subject. Nevertheless, the mere fact that they are even hosting crapware in the first place has to give you cause for concern.


Be very careful when downloading from this site.

Other Offenders

Other sites which have a bit of a bad rap online for hosting crapware include Tucows, FileHippo, Softpedia, and increasingly, SourceForge The SourceForge Controversy, and the Ongoing Fall of Slashdot Media, Explained Over the past few days, one of the world's premier download portals has been in the middle of a controversy – and one of the web's first geek communities is being dragged down with it. Read More .freemake

MajorGeeks seemingly has a good reputation for downloading, but they still host crapware (or “ad-supported” as they call it). Credit where it’s due; they do tell you on the page. But it is very easy to overlook.

How To Minimize Risk When Installing

Now let’s take a look at some ways to avoid accidentally installing malware. Because you can be as careful as possible with where you download from, but accidents still happen. Chris did an excellent writeup on this subject back in 2013 How To Do Your Research Before You Download Free Software Before downloading a free program, you should be sure it's trustworthy. Determining whether a download is safe is a basic skill, but one everyone needs -- particularly on Windows. Use these tips to ensure you... Read More , so I am not going to dwell too much on this. I’ll just summarize some of the important parts, and then you can jump over to Chris’ article.

Always Scan The Installer For Viruses


When you have downloaded the installer, there may or may not be a virus inside. That virus won’t get out until you double-click on the “exe” file, so right-click on it instead and choose your virus checker. If you don’t have one, install one!

I use AVG (even though it has been accused of some shady practices AVG Free Is Selling User Data, Moot Sells 4Chan...[Tech News Digest] AVG's free version is funded by selling user data, 4chan is sold to 2chan's founder, a crippling Chrome bug is turned into a game, Apple updates WatchOS, and watching every show. Read More ). But of course there are many others, such as Avira, Avast, Comodo, and Clamwin. Of course there are paid alternatives too, such as Norton, or Bitdefender Total Security Bitdefender Total Security 2016 Giveaway; Parrot Bebop Quadcopter with Skycontroller Bundle! With Bitdefender Total Security 2016 now available, we take a look at how it improves on the previous release, whether it deserves its position at the top of the pile of online security suites for... Read More .

Install Slowly & Examine Each Screen

As I said at the beginning, when installing something, it is easy to be a bit lazy and click “next, next, next” all the time until the program is installed. So you need to change the habit of a lifetime, and slow down! Go very slowly and examine each screen. Do NOT press “next” until you are satisfied that nothing is going to be installed without your permission.

If the software will not let you decline the crapware, then abandon the whole thing. Do not feel pressured into accepting anything you don’t want.

Consider Using a Sandbox

This is something I highly recommend if you are in the habit of downloading a lot of stuff. A sandbox enables you to run software, and it “quarantines” it from the rest of your computer. So if there is a problem with it, it won’t spread and you can easily get rid of it.


I use a sandbox quite often when testing software and Sandboxie How To Isolate & Test Unsafe Applications On Your PC Read More is my favourite.

Read The Online Reviews

Online reviews are not totally trustworthy, because for all we know, developers could be writing fake glowing reviews under various identities in order to boost their products (and getting their friends and family to do the same). Before I get any outraged developers gathering outside my house with binary pitchforks, I just want to stress that the vast majority of developers are most probably very honest hard-working people. But as with anything in life, there are always a few rotten apples.


So if you bear that in mind, and take everything you read with a huge grain of salt, you can read the online reviews for a piece of software and see what the general consensus is. Is it all one star reviews all the way, complaining of malware? Then that general trend should tell you to look elsewhere.

Download From The Official Site

Finally, probably the best thing to remember when wanting to avoid any unwanted gremlins in your system. Quite simply, download from the official site.


Obviously that doesn’t guarantee anything 100%, but if you download say Pidgin from, and Skype from, then you generally have a lower risk of getting an infected file.

Be Suspicious!

Although the argument has been made in the past that virus checkers are not necessary if you are careful, it is plain from what we have just talked about, that virus checkers are needed now more than ever. Cybercriminals are packaging up their viruses and malware into innocent-looking freeware apps, and sending them out into the world to see who will download and install them. Then suddenly your credit card number is stolen, your identity is “borrowed”, and your computer is suddenly part of Skynet.

So exercise caution and common sense, and you’ll be fine. That’s the lesson for today, children. But before we go, maybe you have some further advice for us all? If so, the comments are open and ready for you.

Image Credits: WinRAR cartoon – Published Under Creative Commons By DogHouseDiaries. Other Attribution-Free Images From

Related topics: Download Management, Malware.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 28, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for your warning !

  2. Davey
    August 28, 2016 at 12:59 am

    SourceForge included bundled crapware in downloads while it was owned by Dice Holdings. It was sold to a new owner in January 2016 and the new owner promised to clean up the site. You might want to revisit your negative assessment of SourceForge.

  3. Anonymous
    August 27, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    " is easy to be a bit lazy and click “next, next, next” all the time until the program is installed."
    I'm glad that it's quite hard for me to be that guy.

  4. Aliston D'souza
    August 26, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Unchecky takes care of the checkboxes when installing a program.