How to Know What Not to Download

Three Methods:Downloading FilesDownloading MusicDownloading Games, Movies, or Videos

Computers can be used to install, or download, files onto your computer. Downloading is very popular. You can download files, music, videos, games, and more. However, downloads aren't always legal or safe. They can contain a virus, or malware, which are hard to remove and damage your computer. Watching for safe extensions, proper digital signatures, and trusted programs will save your computer from these potential damages.

Method 1
Downloading Files

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    Be aware of dangerous email attachments. Anything can be attached to an email—including harmful downloads. Look for some common warning signs to help keep your computer protected. [1]
    • Watch for dangerous document extensions. Some common harmful extensions passed through email attachments are .js, .vbs, .msi, and .reg. Most email services block these files, but check before you download attachments.
    • Pay close attention to office files. Office file extensions that end with m contain macros and these are potentially dangerous. Although some businesses use macro-enabled documents, be conscious of extensions such as: .docm, .xlsm, and .pptm,
    • Know the common safe extensions. In general, it is ok to trust .pdf, .pptx, .docx, .xlsx, .jpg, and .png. [2]
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    Download files safely from websites. Look over the site that you’re downloading from. If the site has been in existence and is backed by a valid organization, chances are it’s trustworthy.
    • Files that carry viruses are dangerous. The main file types to avoid are files with extensions such as .exe, .scr, .bat, .com, or .pif. [3]
    • Hackers trick people easily with double extension files. For example, if a file ends in .exe.gif or .bat.scr, do not download it! These double extensions are often a virus or torrent.
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    Validate the digital signature. If the signature is valid, the file is more likely to be trusted.
    • The digital signature is a technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software, or digital document. It ensures security and assurance of evidence to origin. [4]
    • To see the digital signature, click the publisher link in the security dialog box that Internet Explorer displays when you first download the file. This will tell you if the signature is valid.
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    Submit your file to an online validation. Even if you trust the site, file, and digital signature, use an online service, like VirusTotal, to scan your file.
    • Right click your file’s link, and select “Copy link address”
    • Go to and select “Submit a URL”
    • Paste the your link in the text field and click “Submit URL”
    • Click “View downloaded file analysis”
    • If nothing was detected, you can assume that the file is safe and fine to use. If something was malicious within the file, the site will warn you.

Method 2
Downloading Music

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    Turn off file sharing. Many programs that lead to illegal downloads are Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and use file sharing to make songs on one computer available to another. Disabling file sharing will save your computer from these harmful downloads with potential viruses. To disable file sharing, follow these steps:
    • Click Start, My Computer
    • Go into Tools
    • Choose Folder Options
    • Click View
    • In Advanced Settings, click Use Simple File Sharing to clear the check box
    • Click OK [5]
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    Avoid illegal activity. Downloading files that you haven’t paid for without the permission of the copyright holder is illegal. This happens mostly through P2P software. The most popular examples of P2P software are:
    • Limewire
    • Kazaa
    • Bearshare
    • BitTorrent
    • Ares
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    Use safe programs. Using the P2P software not only puts your computer at danger, but also puts you in line for potential fine and jail times. It is illegal to download without permission of the copyright holder. These programs allow you to legally download music:
    • Ruckus
    • iTunes
    • eMusic
    • Amazon
    • Napster

Method 3
Downloading Games, Movies, or Videos

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    Do not trust groups. Although groups used to release software just to show off that they had hacked the encryption of a game, it has now become a scene of spammers, virus creators, and people who will steal your information and empty your bank account before you get an hour into your game.
    • When you trust a P2P network, you are giving up all of the information in your computer to a hacker that has exceptional technological skill. This hacker can easily get into any details on your computer, making it easy to steal your bank account information, or anything else you may have stored. [6]
    • It doesn’t matter how often you play the game or watch the video. Just downloading it from a P2P network gives these hackers free reign of your information. Along with the download comes the installation of a keylogger, trojan, or root kit, and that is what gives them access. [7]
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    Use legal game downloading programs. Although games are going to still run you more than a couple bucks, downloading them gives you some freedoms. For example, you can do so from home, and you’ll have the ability to re-download it if anything happens. Use some of these safe programs to download games: [8]
    • GameFly
    • GameTap
    • EA Store
    • GamersGate
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    Use legal movie downloading programs. Just as with downloading games, you will need to pay for these downloads. The fees, however, are typically smaller than if you were to buy a DVD. Use the following safe programs to avoid harmful downloads:
    • Amazon
    • Netflix
    • Love Film
    • Redbox Instant
    • Vongo
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    Know what you buy. Just because you pay for a video download, doesn’t make it legal. The programs previously listed are trusted, however there are many more programs available. Just because they require you to pay, doesn’t mean they are trusted. [9]
    • Avoid torrents. Torrent files are often bootleg or pirated and, therefore, illegal. Even though these programs are set up for an easy download, they will most likely add viruses or allow a hacker into your computer.
    • Entertainment companies often link placebo files to these downloads. These are intended to frustrate users and dissuade you from using the sites that don’t have proper copyright holders.


  • Download anti-virus software. There are multiple options for antivirus software depending on your price point and needs for malware protection. Some to look into are Avira, Norton Antivirus by Symantec, Kaspersky Total Security, and Bitdefender.
  • Check a file after downloading it. Before opening the file, scan it with your antivirus. Simply right click the file and choose “scan file.”
  • Unless it is a video, song, or other type of file that you’ve recorded at home, the file most likely has a copyright and is therefore illegal to download freely.


  • If you download a virus, it can severely damage or “kill” your computer, so never download a file that you don’t trust.
  • Ignorance is no excuse for illegal downloads. Illegally downloading files can land you heavy fines and even jail time. [10]

Article Info

Categories: Downloading