How do you know what is safe to download?
By Charles Miller
A client recently called me to rescue her computer after she had installed and then tried to uninstall a download manager program named iLivid. Suffice it to say she was pretty livid about how her computer had been so thoroughly mangled by this program and/or her attempts to get rid of it. In defense of the Israeli company that markets iLivid I have to note here that nobody will ever know if their product or some of the junkware programs that came bundled with it were responsible for my client’s fiasco.
It is a growing problem in the online community that many formerly-legitimate download sites such as download.com now bundle all kinds of adware, spyware and malware with reputable programs in order to trick unsophisticated users into installing this junk on their computers. This is a problem I have warned against in previous columns so I will not address this again in order to return to the tale of my client.
My client saw an online ad for something I will hereinafter refer to as WhatAProg. It sounded good so she clicked on the link to download it. As do most users, she click, click, clicked as fast as she could on each button without reading what she was installing, much less the pages of fine print in the End User License Agreements.
When things did not turn out as hoped, she asked some friends about WhatAProg and got some negative reviews. She tried to uninstall WhatAProg, which by now was intermingled with all the other junkware that had piggy-backed on it during the install process. The failed uninstall left her computer in an unusable state and requiring professional help to restore.
After all was repaired and back to normal, she asked, “How do you know what is safe to download?’ There are several ways that question could be answered. One answer is that you could do as I do: spend several hours every week listening to tech-related programs in addition to following a number of internet security-related web sites. I feel that I need to devote hundreds of hours per year to doing this, but I can understand why most people are not willing to do so.
Asking friends and other users for their experiences is a good idea. Even a better idea is to ask them first before you install some unknown software on your computer!
If nobody you know can offer their experiences, this is a case where Google can be your friend. Enter a simple search for “WhatAProg problem” (without the quotes) and the search engine may well find quite a few references to WhatAProg and people reporting they had a problem with it, or users reporting “no problems.” You might also try being a lot more explicit by searching for “WhatAProg $#*!” and review those search results. For those not familiar with the term, $#*! is that stuff Bess Truman tried for years to get Harry to call fertilizer. You will know that WhatAProg is something you might want to avoid if you see in the search results some newsgroup posting such as “This piece of $#*! WhatAProg #%*$ed up my computer! *%#! you WhatAProg!” You get the idea.
And if you do choose to download and install any program, do so slowly and read each and every dialog box carefully. Watch for “extras” you did not order because much legitimate software is now bundled with other programs you did not ask for and probably do not want. If you downloaded WhatAProg and you see a dialog box asking if you also want to also install WhataJunk you should abort. You also need to be alert for sneakily worded questions that are counterintuitive such as “Do you want to decline the offer?” The vendors know that most users will quickly click on [No] thinking that they just answered “No” to installing that junkware.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.