Free is Not Free

I frequently get questions from folks who download some free software only to find out that it’s not free at all, and they get quite upset at having been misled.

Except that they weren’t misled. Not really. Had they read more closely, they would have realized that “free” wasn’t really free at all.

That’s not to say there aren’t misleading advertisements out there – there are. But even the completely up-front and honest ones are sometimes easy to misunderstand.

So let’s look at some variations of “free” that aren’t really free at all.

Read moreFree is Not Free

How do I keep my browser from being hijacked?

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Hi, Leo. I was leading our computer club’s “Internet & More” special interest group last night. One of our attendees wanted to share how to record audio to the hard drive from YouTube content. He used Audacity’s free program in the past and proceeded to show us how to find and download it. We were using Windows 7 and Firefox. We downloaded the program and started to try out some of the sound editing features. We wanted to search for a YouTube example and open up a new tab to Google. Google wasn’t there.  Trovi.com search engine was there and we couldn’t get back to Google.

We tried IE10 on the same computer – no luck. When we downloaded the Audacity free program, there was no option to do a custom install and unselect the extras. The only reason we had any idea what Trovi was that another of our attendees recounted his recent experience of this happening after he installed an Adobe update. He had to take his laptop to the Microsoft store. They finally got it off his computer but it took them a couple of hours.

Many people in our club are older and likely would have to ask for assistance in getting rid of this monster. I prefer to educate them on prevention. They all have real-time anti-virus software and have learned to do malwarebytes scans. We teach our users to do image backups (thank you for hounding me until I did my first one). Other than restoring my computer to an earlier time, how can we protect ourselves?

What you’ve experienced is something that’s happening more and more these days. It’s actually kind of frightening, and it’s frustrating because a large part of it comes from what I would call otherwise reputable companies just trying to make an extra buck or two.

Read moreHow do I keep my browser from being hijacked?

Is It Safe to Download from Download Sites?

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Hi, Leo. I seem to remember reading some time ago that it was not safe to download anything from CNet plus I suffered a malware infection, which might have been caused by a download from that site. I’ve been reading your article about Macrium Reflect and considered downloading the free version from the CNet website. What’s your opinion on CNet? Do you think it’s safe to download from this site? I’m presently using Windows XP.

I actually now recommend that you avoid all download sites if at all possible. There are simply too many stories exactly like yours: downloads that come with much more than is expected.

Read moreIs It Safe to Download from Download Sites?

Would deleting Facebook help clear up a malware infection?

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Is there such a thing as a computer that’s not infected? I’ve been diligently and faithfully watching my XP for years and yet I’ve been invaded by malware and cannot get rid of it. I’m using AVG 2014; updating it the first thing every day when I turn on the computer. Running MS Security Essentials, Malwarebytes anti-malware yet I have been infected by something called Friendschecker that pops up in Firefox and Internet Explorer. I searched high and low for some tool to delete this despicable program but no luck so far.

Googling is useless as the responses are full of “go to Control Panel, choose friendschecker and delete it.” The program just doesn’t show up. I use CCleaner and Advanced Uninstaller (both fabulous tools) but they don’t find this program. Noted that I use the free tools but what I noticed is that this virus seems to have migrated over to my netbook while it is connected to my home network. As a long time computer user, I’m at my wits’ end. Could you please suggest a virus remover program that is better than the ones I’ve listed? What about deleting Facebook completely? Could that help? I think I deleted something from Facebook, people I have no connection to at all, so I have no problem trying to delete Facebook if it can be done at all.

To be clear, deleting Facebook won’t help. Facebook is nothing more than a website you visit. It actually doesn’t install anything on your computer, so there’s nothing to delete. There are occasionally rogue apps that try to install stuff on your computer, but you usually get those by visiting sites other than Facebook where they try to get you to download something. That’s more traditional malware, as it does in fact download and install on your machine.

Now, I’m not even saying that’s how you got this.

To be honest, I don’t really know exactly how you got it. Somehow, somewhere, though, something was indeed downloaded and installed on your machine.

Read moreWould deleting Facebook help clear up a malware infection?

How do I reinstall software if I don’t have the installation discs or download files?

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I’d like to reinstall Windows XP on one PC and Windows 7 on another. Both have become very slow and I’ve done almost everything written about to speed them up. I have the original discs for them. However, what I don’t have are the discs for much of the software. I read your articles on that so I’ll be getting discs in the future. So, how can I reinstall Windows as well as the software on the PCs? On the XP PC, I really only want to keep Office 2007.

On the Windows 7 PC, however, I have the disc for Office 2007 Pro but not for several software packages that I bought and downloaded. One in particular was actually expensive – Dragon Naturally Speaking. I installed Macrium as you suggested. I wasn’t sure from your articles if I could somehow use the backup from Macrium to reinstall just the software. I found some freeware that allowed me to obtain the keys to some of the Microsoft software on the PCs but for no other legitimate third party software. Mainly, I want to keep Nitro PDF Pro, Wondershare Video Converter and Dragon Naturally Speaking. Everything else I can probably live without even if I bought it.

The very short answer to your dilemma is that strictly speaking you can’t do what you are trying to do. I’ll review how to prevent this in the future at least, and throw out a couple of ideas or straws you can grasp at.

Read moreHow do I reinstall software if I don’t have the installation discs or download files?

Can I trust this site or utility?

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Leo, do you have any opinion on the program ShouldIRemoveIt?

I have to say I don’t have any direct experience with this particular utility. However, looking at it briefly, on the surface, it seems like it might be kind of a useful thing. So what I want to do here is take you through a high-level process that I use to investigate programs and sites like this to determine whether or not I want to risk the download.

Read moreCan I trust this site or utility?

I Canceled a Suspicious Download. Am I Safe?

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I wanted to download Firefox and a search on Bing came up with this site at the top (it’s a download site; I’m not going to mention the URL), not Mozilla. I didn’t notice that it wasn’t the official site until I clicked Install on their site. Before I was able to install Firefox, I was taken through several steps trying to get me to agree to downloading various third-party software packages bundled in with Firefox (including Norton Anti Virus). At this point I realized that it wasn’t Mozilla and canceled the download. I don’t think that I actually ever downloaded anything. When I check in IE downloads, it doesn’t show anything and I never gave permission for any programs to run on my Windows 7 OS. Is there any way that my operating system may have been infected with any Trojans or spyware or do you think this might have been a close escape?

My gut reaction is that you probably just had a close call. You did all the right things – as soon as you noticed that something wasn’t what you expected it to be, you canceled the suspicious download.

But, there’s no way to be completely certain that something didn’t get downloaded. But clearly the site that you went to is doing more than you’re asking them to do.

Read moreI Canceled a Suspicious Download. Am I Safe?