If you give a malicious program administrative access to your computer – even if it’s the coolest new version of Flappy Bird for Windows – it’s possible that you just got your computer infected with a virus. And for some viruses you need to completely reset your computer to its original settings (without your programs or files). Antivirus software can only go so far.
Web sites are more secure as they only operate within the confines of the browser, so use a website instead of a program if you can. So, for instance, if you want to convert a picture file to a PDF file, rather than looking for a free program to download and install, do a Google search for “convert picture file to PDF” and use a website that doesn’t require you to install anything. Or if you want to play a free game on your computer, it’s better to play it on a website than to download and install a free game.
Especially if you’re computer savvy and comfortable installing new things, it’s easy to let your confidence get the better of you and then install something you’ll regret. So, only download and install a program if you’re sure you need it and you’re confident of its origin and creators.
Dave Raffensperger is on Cru staff in Boston. He and his wife, Erin, are new parents to a sweet little girl.
Andrew Chi is a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at UNC-Chapel Hill.