Plenty of safe ways to download free programs or other content, below are the rules i always stick to:
1. run an ad blocker, a lot of download sites include fake download buttons, this will stop them, running noscript is alos helpful
2.when downloading software only do it from the official source (the company, open source organisation or individual developer) not via third party sites
3.when downloading software which is free it might well be unsigned, many open source softwares (blender and gimp for exmaple) are not signed so you will need to go to extra lengths to verify it is correct. Provided the file is small you can upload it to virustotal and let them scan it, they also have opinion ratings and comments which might let you compare previous user experiences
4.When downloading software also serahc for the name of the software on google and for the software site on web of trust, see if you get particularly bad sounding rumours from either
5.downloading other free content, zip archives, video content, audio, 3d model files (they are the thing i personally download most often) is safer than downloading software but it is always wise to scan the downloaded file with your antivirus and with a second opinion scanner (like malwarebytes) before opening.
6.always make sure "show file extensions for known file types" is shown in windows file explorer, this way you will be able to tell if someone has tried to disguise a potentially dangerous file type (like .exe or .scr) as a safe one (like .jpg or .avi). Any files with false extensions shold be assumed malicious, why would a legit person give out files which claimed to be a different type than what thye truly are?
7.don't use internet explorer, use firefox or chrome, both are better protected against exploits and vulnerabilities
8.when you see a download link always check the adress the link is going to by hovering your mouse over it, if it is going to a site different than the one you are downloading from then it might well be a fake download link
9.when you have downloaded software and confirmed it is safe with your own antiviruses and with virustotal make sure to go slowly through the custom options for installation, so you can uncheck offers to bundle toolbars along with it
10.checking digital signatures is a good idea where possible, i personally don't know how to do it though, and it can occur that legitimate exe files are not signed(when the developer is a small group or an individual rather than a big corporation)
11.if something feels suspicious, treat it as being so, if you get a gut feeling of "this isn't right" stop and look at alternative programs or download sources for it where possible
12.always save the files you download (whether they be exe files, zip files, images, videos or audio) and scan them before opening, do not choose the option which firefox and internet explorer offer to "open" the file, "save" it instead.
13.when checking through the EULA specifically look for contact details given for the developer/company, do they match the contact details you already knew or the sort of thing you would expect? if not be very suspicious.
14.before opening an exe file right click on it and look at the properties tab, see if the file name, publication date, copyright, original file name and such match what you would expect.
15. a virtual machine would certainly be a good idea but it isn't practical for everyone, if you can use one it would help you test the software in an environment where if you find it malicious you could just close the virtual machine program and kill of the dodgy software.
16. if two different software programs exist that perform the same sort of function and one is from a developer you have heard more good things of or personally used programs from before then try that software before the one from the developer you are less familiar with
Edited by rp88, 12 December 2014 - 04:11 PM.
Back on this site, for a while anyway, been so busy the last year.
My systems:2 laptops, intel i3 processors, windows 8.1 installed on the hard-drive and linux mint 17.3 MATE installed to USB