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Downloading Software? Follow These Precautions:

Internet downloads are among the top ways to introduce viruses, spyware and other types of malware to your computer. If you're not careful about what you download - and where you download it - your computer's hard drive could easily become infested with a number of serious problems. Worse still, your security and safety could be put at risk. Luckily, there are some simple, straightforward tips for downloading software online; check them out below.

Stick with Reputable Sites - Sure, there are thousands of websites that offer software downloads. However, very few of them could be confidently placed in the "reputable" column. It's easy for just about anyone to offer downloads online. Random websites don't necessarily test the files that they offer for computer viruses and other types of malware. Why risk it? Stick with well-known, highly reputable sites for best results. A well-written "About Us" webpage is one clue to a reputable website, as well as "Contact" information - including phone number and mailing address.

Avoid Cracked/Illegal Versions of Software - We all love to save money. If you think you're getting a great deal by downloading a cracked version of that software, though, think again. The truth is, it could easily be riddled with Spyware, Worms, Trojans, Viruses and other Malware. You're basically opening up your PC to a ton of trouble by voluntarily downloading those files. Save up and pay for legal versions of software in order to keep your computer safe.

Check for User Feedback - Many reputable file download sites allow user comments and ratings for the programs that they offer. This is typically where people report issues with viruses and other infections. Before downloading a file, scan through the user comments section; pay close attention to comments about the downloading and installation process. If people report issues, look elsewhere for the software. It may take longer to get what you need, but it will be time well spent.

Use a Firewall - Even if you stick with reputable sites, legitimate software downloads and check user feedback carefully, problems can still slip through. That's less likely, though, when you have a quality firewall program running. It will look for and deny potentially malicious communications. If you attempt to download something from an infected site, it could stop the communication dead in its tracks and keep your PC safe.

Use Antivirus Software - You shouldn't even go online without quality antivirus software installed on your computer. As you prepare to download a file, a first-rate antivirus program will scan it for viruses and other issues. When you get the green light, you can feel a lot more confident about the safety of the software that you are downloading.

Is there a foolproof way to steer clear of infected files online? No. But by following these simple precautions, you can significantly reduce your risk of running into trouble.

Article last updated May 11, 2011.

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