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I’m not sure when it happened, but lately everything I download wants to install a toolbar, download accelerator, or some other piece of “crapware.” That, or the page hosting the file has half a dozen links that say “download” with only one right choice.
Fortunately, with a few simple tips you can avoid installing something you don’t want or getting drawn into a game of Internet Wack-A-Popup.
1. Always look for a “direct download.”
CNET’s Download.com is notorious for having a large green button that says “Download Now,” but actually installs an ad-supported “download manager” that then downloads the file.
But just underneath the button is a small text link that says “Direct Download Link.” A direct download means you don’t want to use another program; you just want to download the file directly. If you’re trying to avoid installing one more program you don’t need, direct download is your best friend.
2. Always pick “custom install.”
Sure, an express install sounds nice — after all, who wouldn’t want their install to be express? — but it won’t show you everything being installed until it’s too late.
The next time you install something on your computer, try the custom install. You typically won’t have to do anything more complicated than check a box next to what it is you want to install. But more often than not, you’ll see pre-checked options for things you didn’t want: a toolbar, a new homepage or a different default search engine in your Web browser, or something worse. Go ahead and uncheck those things, click “Next,” and enjoy your sanity.
3. Scan, scan, scan.
Scan with an antivirus or anti-malware tool, that is. VirusTotal is an excellent free Web service that lets you upload a file and scan it for malware. Just make sure to use it before opening the file on your computer.
And if you’re not already running an antivirus full time, you should be (though it’s less of an issue if you’re a Mac user). There are many options to choose from, but Avast Free Antivirus, BitDefender, and Norton are all popular. They won’t protect you from accidentally installing a download accelerator or changing your browser’s search engine, but they will do a decent job of protecting you from most truly malicious software.