Thursday, April 19, 2012

Download Portals - A Nasty Side Of the Internet

We all sometimes want or even need to download that nifty program that will do something we think we need done on the computer. Many downloads of really good software are offered on Download Portals, web sites that are specially designed to make many different programs available in "one convenient location" and accessible through "one convenient user interface".

Did you see what I put in quotes in the previous paragraph? "Convenient", one of the regularly (ab-)used weaknesses of human nature.

A consistent single user interface for many different downloads certainly is a nice idea - when it's done correctly and without a hidden agenda. Some very well known download portals do have a hidden agenda; mostly it is about making some money from the fact that many people use them.

Today I found an excellent article on the Emsisoft Blog about the abuse that unsuspecting visitors are subjected to by some well known download portals. Here you find the original blog post with quite a bit of technical detail; Emisisoft makes very good anti virus software and their blog is written for a technically inclined audience.

To save you the need to wade through the technical details here is an excerpt from that blog post (two paragraphs) and then I follow it with just the skinny:

What are download wrappers good for?
You have every right to wonder what the point of download wrappers is at all, as conventional downloads have been just as simple and as well established for decades now. There are several reasons: Useful features such as pausing and resuming while downloading big files are mostly advertised. Current browsers support pausing and resuming downloads, though. You can also make use of professional download managers instead of having a wrapper imposed onto you. This argument is also rather weak as download wrappers are also used for very small target files that are sometimes even smaller than the wrapper itself.
For download portals there is first and foremost a good reason for using download wrappers: the possibility of systematically putting in ads. Software you have designed yourself for that purpose is way more useful than a website is. Plus, this offers the advantage of collecting statistical data on used hardware, which enables the creation of detailed user profiles. One must not forget the commercial effect, either:  When a user downloads software from a specific portal, they are highly likely to remember its name and use this portal for future downloads as well. Regular visits including unique user statistics result in more profits from advertising.

Example 1:
Risk: Installing a browser toolbar and hijacking your browser’s homepage.

Example 2:

Risk: Installing undesired software, fraudulent ad banners.

Example 3: / RegNow

Risk: Unintentional redirection to unknown third-party providers, ad banners.

Example 4:

Risk: Greatest risk due to accidentally installing third-party software and tampering with your browser.
Should you at any time have downloaded anything from any of these four download portals you may find any of these icons on your desktop, in your Downloads folder or in almost any other location:

PLEASE uninstall these programs from your computer; uninstall them no matter what they tell you when you attempt the uninstall.

The vast majority of programs offered by download portals is available from other sources without all the "extras". My customers know who to ask. 
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

No comments: