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Author Topic: Is it safe to try new freeware?  (Read 7140 times)

clif_notes

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Is it safe to try new freeware?
« on: April 15, 2006, 02:48:53 AM »
This is an article I plan to publish to an audience of 250,000. Comments / Critique appreciated.

Is it safe to try new freeware?

How do I safely try new freeware? Trying out new free software is sometimes risky. True freeware is typically safe to use. Sometimes greedy or misguided people don't tell you that free means free with added spyware or adware. If you've gotten your software from a trusted source, you won't typically have to go through a lot of preparation. I sometimes try out stuff that I don't really trust, and when that happens, I break out the big guns.

Always be protected

Some safety devices are always running on my PC.
* Firewall - NAT Router
* Anti-Virus - free versions
* Intrusion Detection - WinPatrol
* Anti-Spyware Detection - SpyCatcher Express

Many people recommend using a software firewall and hardware firewall in tandem. This let's you know when new programs try to "phone home" to access the web. Two good free software firewalls are ZoneAlarm and Kerio. I don't use them, but I probably should.

Preparing to install

Before installing a new freeware program I don't trust, I do the following to make sure I remove any spyware or adware I wasn't aware I had.

* Scan my PC with AdAware and SpyBot S&D
* Run a HijackThis log and save the log file somewhere safe
Note: HijackThis should be used with caution. Incorrect use can crash a PC or create a whole series of hard to fix problems.

The above scans give me some confidence that I am malware free before I start installing. After scanning, I also think it's a good idea to set a restore point or make a backup of the system.

Installing

* Run Total Uninstall and use it to monitor the installation the new freeware program.

Total Uninstall will allow me to uninstall the files and registry keys the new freeware program puts on my PC. It will work even if the program doesn't include it's own good uninstaller.

After trying out the software

I uninstall any software I don't want, I repeat the HiJackThis scan and compare it with the previous scan to see if anything unusual pops up. Then I might run the AdAware and SpyBot once again just to be safe. If I'm really paranoid, I might search for root kits with RootkitRevealer.

It ain't foolproof

These trials don't always go as planned. A freeware fanatic like me should keep good backups just in case something goes horribly wrong. A safer method to test software is to use a PC that is set up for testing software. This test PC would always start in a known good configuration that is backed up so that it can be restored to the same good configuration after testing. I've been told running new programs on a virtual machine also works well.

I hope some of these ideas or freeware programs help you out if you ever decide to download something off the beaten tracks.

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« Last Edit: April 15, 2006, 04:06:15 AM by clif_notes »

mouser

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2006, 02:59:16 AM »
Quote
I've been told running new programs on a virtual machine also works well.

cliff i consider this to be THE most important tool for people who test software a lot.
to my mind it is really the safest way to test software.

there are also some sandbox tools discussed recently on the forum: http://www.donationc...76.msg22472#msg22472

personally i am wary of these apps that try to protect programs from altering file system and registry, and/or cleaning up afterwards; i just worry that it's hard to do so reliably and without interfering with real functionality.

by far i'd still say that a virtual machine is the most surefire and painless way to do it, just click a button to reset the machine to the state it was in before you installed, and no worry of it messing with your real computer.

it's also increasingly reasonable to actually buy a spare pc (but a super cheap old laptop?) and test software on that.

clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2006, 03:03:35 AM »
I didn't really set out to tell folks the absolute best ways to try new stuff out. I think my main thrust was to show that anyone can try stuff out with a few (freeware) precautions.

Maybe that doesn't come across well, but the info is there for those who might benefit.

Thanks for your sage input, as always, you cut to the chase.

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mouser

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2006, 03:09:55 AM »
your advice about running a program like total uninstall is good, as is keeping backups.  i like the idea of a checklist:

before installing and testing software you are not 10000% convinced you want to keep installed:
1) update your antivirus definitions
2) make sure you have a firewall installed and running
3) run an uninstaller type program to take a snapshot of your installations
4) make a backup of your computer
5) install program, reboot if advised too (i.e. dont ignore this)
6) test program thoroughly
7) uninstall promptly if you dont like it (rather than wait until 10 more programs are installed on top of it).  reboot if advised too.

alternatively, if you have a virtual machine: just install and play to see if its something you want on your real pc.

ps. because of all the steps involved, especially #4, i like to test programs in batches, right after i do my monthly backup of my computer.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2006, 03:25:26 AM by mouser »

brotherS

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2006, 03:16:07 AM »
This is an article I plan to publish to an audience of 250,000.
Wow, nice!

I like the article, just add one more sentence about what mouser said.

And btw, the URLs in your post are broken, you added them in a strange way: http://"http://www. isn't working ;)

clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2006, 03:27:09 AM »
I used an HTML to BBCode converter. Sorry, didn't check the URL's. I'll see if I can fixem.
http://javascript.ab.../library/blscr01.htm

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mouser

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2006, 03:32:37 AM »
i tested the html to bbcode generator on that page and it seemed to work fine, not sure why your text had an extra http:// in each url.

clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2006, 03:35:35 AM »
Yeah, I don't get it either. The code looked fine before I pasted it in. It's fixed now.

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clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2006, 04:07:26 AM »
Thanks for the suggestions. I added a line recommending backups after the spyware scanning phase.

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gjehle

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2006, 07:44:25 AM »
my whole OS is kinda freeware
so, yes, for me it is save to try new stuff :)
even without all that protection shizzle

Edvard

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2006, 04:40:29 PM »
Heh. The Linux Evangelists strike again... I'm with you gjehle, at home anyways. At work, not only am I on Windows, but Windows NT 4.0 SP6a. So a lot of the stuff I'm installing is usually to suck some productivity out of this dinosaur, as well as to get around some annoyances. My favorite trick is to unpack ALL exe's (Installers are quite often self-extracting archives with setup scripts) before running them. It has been a while since I've seen it, but I have run across some that had spy installers packed in with the goodies. Besides, 90% of the time if it doesn't need an uninstall, I don't need an installer.

f0dder

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2006, 10:09:04 PM »
Bookmarking, will read when I get back from job.
- carpe noctem

Deozaan

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2006, 11:04:28 PM »
How would one go about setting up a virtual machine?


mouser

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2006, 12:49:45 AM »
our virtual machine review ->
http://www.donationc...alMachine/index.html

clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2006, 11:50:47 AM »
My favorite trick is to unpack ALL exe's (Installers are quite often self-extracting archives with setup scripts) before running them.

Hi Edvard, have you ever tried Universal Extractor?

It tries to unpack installers that it recognizes. I found that it only works on a hit or miss basis, but you may find it useful.

Have fun!

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Edvard

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #15 on: April 18, 2006, 02:59:46 PM »
Website says it is simply an AutoIt app that relies on other unzippers to work. I use and love 7-Zip, but I have found that ZipGenius opens more than 7-zip does.

f0dder

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #16 on: April 18, 2006, 03:09:19 PM »
Was a pretty nice mini-article - should probably be more info on VM's like vmware, virtualpc (bochs, qemu aren't up to speed), and perhaps some of the sandbox apps (though they seem a bit flaky). VMWare is definitely the super-safe way to test things, especially with it's machine snapshot feature.
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Deozaan

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #17 on: April 18, 2006, 06:07:48 PM »
our virtual machine review ->
http://www.donationc...alMachine/index.html

Thanks, Mouser!

The link to QEMU is broken at the bottom of the article. It links to freeoszoo but it should just be oszoo.org. Does anyone else use QEMU that would like to answer some questions for me? For instance, could a 32-bit machine create a 64-bit vm to try out a 64bit OS? Or vice versa? Could it emulate a Mac?


Carol Haynes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #18 on: April 18, 2006, 06:43:03 PM »
You are unlikely to find a virtual Mac because of licensing issues with the Mac code and Apple tie the OS to their own hardware.

VMWare support 64 bit virtual machines but only if you have a system with a suitable 64 bit processor. See a few sections down http://www.vmware.co...leasenotes_ws55.html for details.

Deozaan

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #19 on: April 18, 2006, 07:11:54 PM »
Thanks for the link, Carol, very useful information found therein!


clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #20 on: April 18, 2006, 10:31:01 PM »
I would love to try out the VMWare, but my system is much too slow. I might try out one of the Sandbox programs sometime. I've heard Sandboxie is good. Any opinions on that one?

Clif

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lanux128

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #21 on: April 18, 2006, 10:55:19 PM »
there's some discussions on sandboxie here and here...

clif_notes

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Re: Is it safe to try new freeware?
« Reply #22 on: April 18, 2006, 11:51:21 PM »
Thanks Lanux!

It does sound better than the tedious methods I'm currently using.

 :Thmbsup:

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