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Computer Care: Even safe downloading sites should be approached with caution

POSTED: February 9, 2013 1:00 a.m.

There are good places to go on the Internet for downloads and there are not-so-good places. Often when you think you are navigating to a certain website, you end up somewhere else, possibly on a rogue site. You have been redirected.

This redirection can be initiated from malware that has infiltrated your system or it can be that you were duped into clicking an online link that was similar to your destination. The similarity could be in the site spelling or it could be a different suffix. You may have wanted a .com and ended up at a .biz instead.

Alternatively, you may have clicked on an ad in your search results, rather than on a bona fide hit.

I never thought too much about being redirected. Hey, I am careful. No, not me. I always watch what I click on. Alas, even your local tech writer was taken in by a recent installation of AVG.

After clicking on "Decline" various times during the installation of the anti-virus program, I assumed I'd dodged the optional toolbars offered by AVG. Most of those attach themselves to Internet Explorer and since I use Google's Chrome, I wasn't immediately aware they were in fact clandestinely installed, without my knowledge (or permission).

It was only after careful scrutiny, when I ran the free utility AdwCleaner, that I realized the registry had been altered and there were components added to my system that I neither requested nor desired.

AdwCleaner is a good utility, but it, like Combofix, another good free malware cleaner, requires interaction on the part of the user. If you are not comfortable making decisions about what should or should not be deleted, get outside help from a tech-savvy friend or perhaps find different utilities to clean your system.

Although technically I wasn't redirected to another site, I was still redirected to install a rogue application.

Only recently have I been made aware of similar tactics on a site I've sent you, my readers to, many times in the past. Download.com, the large computer information site run by CNET, has fallen to letting malware attach itself to some of its downloads.

It was usually safer to go to an author's site and download an application from its origin, but now they refer you to websites that are clearinghouses for downloadable programs and allow garbage to be piggy-backed onto their apps, for a price.

Program authors and websites subsidize their (free) offerings by allowing these installers to be attached to their programs. They earn a fee each time one is downloaded. I've said this before, but allow me to reiterate: There are no free programs.

In the past, I have encouraged my clients and readers to use download.com. Now all I can say is, caveat emptor. You are on your own guys. Be careful out there.

MajorGeeks.com, is another site that offers downloads and computing advice. BleepingCompter.com is good for help, but has no programs.

Be ever-vigilant while installing anything. Run a scan daily, and always after you install something to your computer.

A virus checker looks mostly for viruses. It's best to (carefully) install one or more anti-malware utilities as well.
You can only have one anti-virus app installed. More is not better in this case.

You can however, use multiple anti-malware programs. Many work well in conjunction with one another since they either work differently or seek out different types of malware.

By definition, malware is simply bad software. This encompasses adware, spyware, pop-ups, toolbars, hijackers, keyloggers, Trojans or anything else that you didn't ask to be put on your system.

Aside from the ones I mentioned above, I recommend Malwarebytes (see malwarebytes.org). Even the free version is great, but for a few bucks, the paid version has a scheduler and is well worth the small investment. This, by the way, is a clean installation. They only try to get you to try the Pro version, but you can decline it. Nothing else is added.

SuperAntiSpyware, with its superhero name, is a also good program. Again, they offer free and paid versions.

Just remember, sometimes certain utilities ask you how you want to respond to an issue. If you are unsure, leave it alone. A change to the Windows registry cannot be undone. If you don't know what you are doing, my best advice is to refer to a professional. We techs have fixed more computers that users have attempted to repair on their own.

Whether you click a link, install an application or sign up for a newsletter or sweepstakes, you are susceptible to malware installation on your computer. Watch what you agree to and what boxes are checked before you click, "Next."

Then run a few scans just for good measure.

Run updated, full scans daily for viruses and malware. Remember, if you only have a virus checker, download a good malware utility or two. Be careful even downloading it. Nothing is sacred anymore.

I hate to say you can't trust anyone anymore — but you can't.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.


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