IT TIP: Free Software – How Safe it is?

Free Software – Blessing or Curse?

Over two years ago, I received some calls from people who I knew were desperate for help.  Why? They had downloaded something free and got a virus (or in one case 264 viruses).   All of them did not know how to get out of it.

So is Free Software safe?

The answer is both Yes and No.

Like all tools, if you use the wrong part with your tool, you can totally destroy your tool.   So the trick is knowing what is the right part to use. As nearly all our software is now delivered via the internet, it is a matter of distinguishing the “quality” software from the non-quality.

So here are some tips tI use hat should assist you with getting safe, free software.

Tip 1. Why is it free?

Some software is free because a company is promoting itself.  E.g. they offer a component or trial version of their software for free.  The intention here is that when you are satisfied with this version, you will purchase the full product.

Other software is free because you have already purchased the product and you need this to make it work.

Some Items are free because they are promotional items, e.g. Get Fit and it promotes the cereal Special K.

For the rest, they are generally teasers that have been written with an alternate reason. Quite often this is malice and could definitely contain viruses, spam etc.  Be wary.  It is very easy to embed code inside a free voucher, game or tool.  This code may give someone access to your computer and hence your identity, or it may have other reasons.  The fact is, if you don’t know why, don’t trust it, and don’t download it.

Tip 2. Do you think you should pay for this?

I know some people think everything on the internet should be free – well grow up.  This world needs people to create what goes on the internet.  The internet is purely a means of transportation / communication.  The original creator, whether they are a  singer, artist, programmer, inventor or service provider, need money to live. And so pay the creator.

If a song should be purchased and you find a way to get it for free I believe that you are stealing it.  You can justify this in any way you like, but stealing from the creator is what you are doing.

If something should be paid for, and you want to find a way around that, then you are not being fair to the initial creator.   This action, by the way, is perfect for a virus to be spread.  And spreading a virus or spam or worm or other dangerous item is exactly what you need to avoid and some people really want to give it to you.

So if you think something should be paid for, then pay for it and get the right item that is safe for you to use.

Tip 3. Kids! Teach them responsibility; don’t let them destroy.

I am a mum. I know kids want everything, now, without parents knowing. Of course if anything goes wrong, it was not them who did it; they take no responsibility.  Any parent will tell you the same story with a 1000 variations.  I think this goes hand in hand with being a parent.  So what to do if you have kids?  Yes, they need a computer, so give them their own but with Nanny watch software added.  In this way you can control what they can get and cannot get into.

Kids are Kids. Parents are supposed to assist them to learn and grow up safely.  For example, you have to teach them fire is hot and dangerous, so “don’t play with matches”. For some kids you can tell them and they learn the easy way.  For others, they will burn their fingers and learn the hard way. But you don’t have to let them burn your house down for them to learn the lesson.

As a parent, I taught my son that there are consequences for his inappropriate behaviour by making sure he cleaned up if he did wrong.  So when he got a virus, he had to fix it.  My son can now fully load a PC, fix a PC, and is often sought after by his friends for help them.  Not all parents have this option.  But I can tell you, my son is now very careful and aware of dangerous software.

Tip 4. Know how to get rid of the Virus and Spam.

There are some excellent tools available.  I suggest that all PC’s, be they home or business, need good, up to date virus protection software.  Businesses should also use and purchase products for removal of spam, such as Malwarebytes.

There is also great cleaning software like Ccleaner for PC’s.

I suggest that you keep your Virus software current and updated.  You run this at all times in the background.  Then at regular intervals do a full scan, a scan for malware and a clean of your PC.  You will have a much happier time using your computer if you keep it clean.

Tip 5. Finally, use your PC for a purpose.

If your PC is a games PC, then use it for games – consider this a Sander.  If the PC is a work PC, then use it for work – consider this a Hammer Drill.  Or if you have a multipurpose PC, then just like a multipurpose tool, this is a much lighter weight tool that does lots of things; just don’t expect it to excel in any one area.  Now for all of these tools you need to care and maintain your unit.  If you try to turn your multi-purpose tool into a hammer drill, it will most likely burn out.  This is one of the main reasons I see attacked PC’s.  Their owners tried to download software to speed it up, so that they could do something.  Not a good idea. PC’s are purchased and designed for their use.  Make sure you get the right unit and care for it.

So, yes, some free software is safe and good but only if this is a small component or a tester to their main product. The old saying of “You get what you pay for” is true.  You will either pay the price in time, effort or money; but you will pay.  The choice is yours.