In the hyper-digital environment we live in today, keeping our devices secure is more challenging than ever. Most common malware threats to devices come from malicious software.
5 Tips That Will Help You Tell If a Software Is Safe To Use or Not?
By definition, safe-to-use software is programmed in a way that adds utility to the user while preserving and protecting the environment and resources in which it operates, i-e, the host operating device.
Here are five useful tips to help you figure out which software is safe to use and which isn’t.
Closed vs Open-Source Software
Knowing more about who can access and modify commonly used software gives insight into how safe they are. Open-source software is often misinterpreted as a safer option than closed-source software. That’s because bug fixes with open-source software are quicker.
But risks of open-source software can outweigh their benefits. For instance, even if OSS has faster bug fixes, CSS has no room for error to begin with. Secondly, OSS can be edited and modified by anyone.
In contrast, the proprietors of CSS possess the right to impose restrictions on the use and modification of their code. As soon as a weakness in OSS is identified, cybercriminals have free reign to exploit it.
Furthermore, OSS developers are volunteers, which means there is little check and balance on their level of knowledge and expertise. This leaves OSS with an inherent lack of quality that CSS doesn’t possess. Additionally, since these volunteers are highly likely to face capital and time constraints, the long-term sustainability of OSS is also a huge question mark.
Finally, OSS also lacks detailed security auditing procedures. Thus, there’s always a higher possibility that OSS has security loopholes than CSS.
Double-Check the Publisher
Getting software off the internet is a risky business. Whether done on personal operating systems or in a corporate environment, downloading software should always be done from official publisher websites or trustworthy websites.
Every legitimate software has a ‘Digital Signature.’ Files with digital signatures of tech giants like Microsoft and Google are most likely legitimate and safe. In the event that a file has dubious signatures, either avoid installing the file or consult reputable digital communities for an expert opinion.
An easy tell for malicious software is the absence of a ‘Digital Signature.’ Such software is unsafe and can potentially harm the device it’s run on. The best practice is not to install or run them.
Built-In Antivirus Scanning
All operating systems come with effective built-in antivirus programs as their primary defense mechanisms. For Windows OS, the said program is Windows Defender; for macOS, it’s Xprotect, and so on.
One of the main objectives of these programs is to prevent the installation of malicious or unsafe software. Another major function of these programs is to notify users whether the software is unsafe for installation and use.
They do this by giving pop-up messages or error messages and preventing installation. If attempts to install software prompt such error messages to appear, the software is most likely unsafe. Even if the program itself isn’t inherently unsafe, an error message of this nature is an indicator that the security program is unable to identify the publisher or source of the said software.
The safest practice in this situation is to scan the software through certified antivirus programs like Avast, Norton, Malwarebytes, etc., or through a verified online database. This allows the users to further verify and be sure of whether the program intended for installation is unsafe.
Alternatively, referring to reliable online forums for support can help the user find the desired clues to identify whether the software is safe or not. Since error messages are very good indicators to verify the safety of programs, it’s not recommended to continue their installation.
VirusTotal is a domain that allows users to run programs through the database of 70 antivirus scanners and domain blocking services and point out whether the program is safe to use or not. It doesn’t just allow users to run program files through these databases but also URLs.
VirusTotal can provide users with detailed information about the safe or unsafe nature of the desired file/URL but also descriptions of databases the file/URL was tested against. Interpreting the report is pretty straightforward. If the results show the file/URL wasn’t marked malicious by any sandboxes or security vendors, the program is safe to install.
Monitor Software Behaviour
In the event that the user suspects a program to be unsafe, an easy way to confirm their doubts is by observing the way the program behaves. In particular, a program’s network activity is an excellent indicator of whether it’s safe or not.
Monitoring the traffic the host program receives and generates and identifying what the program is connecting to can help the user to get to the bottom of the problem.
Users can do this by using specialized tools that monitor a program’s traffic in real-time. If there is suspicious activity on this front, then the program is unsafe to use, and immediate mitigative action is required.
Users can block this unidentifiable traffic using firewalls and begin with the uninstallation of the program before it has a chance to harm the operating system.
Encounters with unsafe software aren’t uncommon. If users choose to be cautious and determine whether the software is safe or unsafe before going forward with the installation, there’s a good chance for them to avoid any damages to their operating systems.
Identifying unsafe software doesn’t require specialized tools or skills. Just a few tips can help users be more aware of what they are running on their operating systems. Once a user identifies the source of the software, judging whether the potential for a software to be unsafe exists or not isn’t very complex.
A set of simple built-in tools in all operating systems is enough to solidify any doubts. External resources and the digital community can help identify whether the software is unsafe for further confirmation.