4 Things You Must Do to Download Safely From the Internet

These tips will help you safely deal with downloads without a nasty surprise.

In the digital age, downloads have become a way of life. It’s rare to see someone without a smartphone, and because so many of us have digital devices, we often download things without considering whether it's safe to do so. They might include the apps you have on your phone and smart TV, the software installed on your laptop, or the pictures and videos you’ve downloaded to your tablet.

As with anything that becomes routine, it can be easy to bypass tried and true safety measures when downloading files from the internet. However, just as you would take precautions for safe online shopping, you should be equally careful when you download files to your device. Unfortunately, viruses, malware, and Trojans (misleading malware) are more rampant than ever—and smart devices are not as smart or as safe as you think.

Here are four essential tips for safe downloading. Incorporate them into your daily digital routine to help you shield yourself from hackers or scams the next time you download something online. After you protect yourself from unsafe downloads, revamp your privacy settings on social media, too.

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Download Only From Reputable Sources

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Hackers capitalize on the fact that people want things immediately and for free by enticing them to download new music or movies before anyone else. When in doubt, be wary of any site that offers downloads of free movies or anything else that shouldn’t be available to consumers for a few months or without a fee.

To verify if a site is reputable, check the website’s “About” or “Contact Us” page to verify the site’s legitimacy. Look for phone numbers, physical addresses, news coverage, or other signs that this is a trustworthy website. If an unfamiliar email address sends you an attachment to download, don’t open or download it without confirming with the sender what it is.

“Security and convenience do not go hand in hand,” says Aaron Nolan, a former information security specialist at Spector. “The more you have of one, the less you will get from the other.” To stay as protected from malicious downloads as possible, it’s important you don’t favor convenience over smart online safety habits.

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Scan Files for Viruses Before Downloading

One step you should always take before you download anything is to scan it for viruses. The majority of anti-virus software lets you scan files for malicious intent if you right-click on the file you’re trying to download. Others will prompt you to open your software first, before it scans the file you just downloaded. If you download a file before you scanned for viruses, be sure not to open or run the file until you’ve made sure it’s clean.

As an extra precautionary step, run your anti-virus software after downloading your file, to ensure that nothing that can steal your data slipped through the cracks.

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Pay Attention to File Extensions

In addition to scanning files before you download or run them, pay attention to the file extension: the letters that come after the file name. “Executable files such as .exe or .scr are often considered dangerous and should be avoided,” says Casey Shull, residential internet expert at Frontier.

If you downloaded a file with one of the above extensions from a website you trust or a known email contact, just be sure to scan the file first to ensure it doesn’t pose a threat.

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Back Up Your Device in Multiple Locations

On the off chance you end up downloading something malicious onto your device, Michael Fontana, Optionbox director, recommends backing up your device to protect your files, photos, and data. Our digital devices can hold a number of precious items—photos, phone numbers, and more—and certain types of viruses and malware can render your devices useless, making it impossible to access anything.

If you do fall prey to a virus, Fontana recommends that you reset your device and restore your backup to prevent hackers from stealing your data or locking you out of it.

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