The web is littered with traps for novice users when downloading software, from fake “Download” buttons that are actually advertisements to installers full of bundled toolbars and other junk software. Learning how to avoid the junk is an important skill and in most cases not technically challenging at all. A little knowledge goes a long way.
As geeks, we know how to dodge all the junk when downloading free software for our Windows PCs (Most of the time, but we can be fooled sometimes too), but not everyone knows how. People must be falling for these tricks or they wouldn’t still be in such wide use.
Here are some things you can watch for that will save you from most of this frustrating infestation.
Fake Download Links - Looking for that cool software? – There it is!
When downloading free software, the first trap you’ll encounter may be a fake download link — or in most cases nowadays, multiple fake download links — on the software’s web page. You’ll often find large, brightly colored buttons with text like “Free Download” or “Download Now.” These are often just advertisement banners designed to mimic real download links, tricking you into clicking them and installing different software. Most fake download links are the very large buttons where the actual link is often quite tiny.
Be aware that such advertisements are trying to trick you — that’s the first step. To identify fake download links, you can generally hover your mouse cursor over the link and look at where it leads. This makes it easy and quick to discover that this is not what you want.
Additional Software Bundled on Web Pages
Even legitimate, popular software providers want to trick you into installing additional software you probably don’t want. These providers are paid or sponsored in some way in return for adding the additional software to their installers.
Ethics 101 even for the big guys?
For example, when trying to download the well known Flash Player from Adobe’s official download page, you’ll find McAfee Security Scan Plus is checked by default. Users who accept the default option or don’t read it will end up with this additional software on their computers. McAfee is clearly paying Adobe for this inclusion.
***To avoid this sort of thing, be careful on download pages — uncheck any additional software you don’t want to install before downloading the intended installer.
Many of these unwanted installs literally dump viruses or Trojans onto your computer when you try to uninstall them. You think the software is gone simply to find you are even further infected. In most cases there is a lot of infection “hidden” that needs to be removed by a technician due to its ability to evade traditional methods of removal.
Junk Selected By Default in Installers
Software installers often bundle browser toolbars and other junk software. The developer distributes their software for free and makes some money by including this junk. Some installers may even try to change your browser’s home page and default search engine to a different home page or search engine — almost always a clearly inferior one with a worse user experience.
Don’t be fooled — the installer may say the developer “recommends” the software, but the only reason they recommend it is because they’re paid to do so. The bundled software is probably fairly bad — if it were good, you would seek it out and install it on your own. Always choose advanced or custom install and again, uncheck the unwanted software. If the bundled installer is honest with your choice (most cases to date it is), then you won’t end up with the additional junk software.
When installing software, always be careful to uncheck any toolbars, junk software, or home page and search engine changes. It’s usually possible to disable this stuff during the installation process. Read carefully — sometimes you may have to check a box saying you don’t want to install the software or click a Decline button instead. Developers are hoping you’ll quickly click through the installation wizard and install the junk — so be careful when you install new software.
For example, the dreaded Ask toolbar bundled with Oracle’s Java and other software is sneaky. After you install the software, it lies in wait for ten minutes before installing itself. If you accidentally leave it checked during the installation process and try to uninstall it right afterwards, you won’t find it there. It will only appear in your list of installed software ten minutes later.
To remove the bad software, you’ll generally just need to hunt it down in the list of installed programs in the control panel and uninstall it. A particularly bad installer might pull in multiple junk programs that you’ll have to remove. You may also have to install the toolbar or other browser extensions from within your browser. If you’re having trouble removing something, perform a Google search for it — you may need a specialized removal tool or instructions.
Sadly, we probably won’t see the situation improve any time soon. Bundling unwanted software with installers has become widely accepted in the Windows software ecosystem, with companies as big as Adobe and Oracle bundling junk software along with their free downloads. Oracle even bundles the terrible Ask toolbar and other junk software along with Java security updates.
We, at Microdyne Computers, regularly tell people that you are the best security for your computer. Your antivirus is just your assistant.
If you find this information useful please share with others.
The Microdyne Team.