The Risks of Downloading Free Software on a Mac


Have you ever found yourself visiting a web page on your Mac and being met with the ‘free’ software download offer? There is no doubt about it: nowadays, droves of free software offers are spread across the internet, enticing users to follow and click on the provided links.

While the free software may not necessarily be harmful, you should never throw caution in the window as “free” is not always good or safe. Every software you download on your Mac is a threat, and some are avenues to infect your device with malware.

If you are reading this, and you’ve probably downloaded or intend to download free software on your Mac, then it’s time to reconsider that decision. In this article, we’ll discuss the many risks of downloading free software and how to mitigate some of them.

Let’s get into it!

What is free software?

Free software is a term used to refer to any software that allows users freedom to use it any in the way they deem fit. Users are granted the freedom to run, copy, and distribute it to other developers. They can also make some changes and improvements to the software.

Some of the advantages you get with a free software include:

  • There is a set of ethical principles that promote your freedom to use and share the software with other users freely.
  • Free software will encourage you to collaborate with other developers. This is especially beneficial to those who want to share their ideas on improving the software’s quality.
  • The free software’s source code and development process are often available for public scrutiny. You get to know a list of all commands compiled or assembled into the software.

Like most people, you may have asked yourself, is my software free safe? Well, this depends on where you get it. However, the availability of numerous free software programs means you’re still at risk of downloading the wrong one.

That’s why you should always research before downloading any free software on your Mac.

Risks of downloading free software on your Mac

Downloading free software on your Mac will always come with risks. For example, free software disguised as legitimate might put you in the hands of ransomware attackers who want to extort you. Other risks associated with downloading free software on your Mac include:

1.   Constant update requests

As a Mac user, you may have received alarming notifications urging you to update your software, claiming dire consequences if you don’t act immediately. These messages are often aimed at making you take prompt action to update your software.

While keeping your software up-to-date is crucial, you need to be cautious when confronted with update prompts from free software. Malicious entities may exploit these notifications to coerce you into installing updates that could compromise your macOS security.

This makes it easier to unleash viruses or allow remote access to attackers. If you’ve downloaded free software, ensure you employ a premium anti-virus program capable of effectively detecting and thwarting such attacks.

2.   Degradation of performance and system instability

Certain free software downloads cause system instability and performance deterioration, mainly if they come from unreliable sources. Such free software downloads risk compromising your system’s security by exploiting any existing vulnerabilities.

Others may interfere with already-installed Mac apps and programs, causing crashes, freezes, or a noticeable slowdown in performance.

For specific guidance on removing software that may be affecting your Mac’s performance, such as OneDrive, see step-by-step guide on uninstalling OneDrive.

3.   Fake browsers and toolbars

Among the free software offerings, fake browsers and toolbars stand out as a danger you should look out for. Some are disguised as legitimate browsing tools but stealthily operate as spyware. They can track your online activity to sell crucial data to advertisers.

In addition to invasive ad displays and unwanted website redirects, they can significantly slow down your Mac’s performance. If your Mac starts behaving strangely after installing free software, you’ve likely fallen victim to a fraudulent software variant.

When seeking to download browsers or toolbars, ensure you access them from their official websites.

4.   The risk of malware and other viruses

Some free software downloads may contain viruses capable of wreaking havoc on your system. These infections not only cripple your device but also grant cybercriminals access to your sensitive personal information.

Common viruses you may find in your free software download range from:

  1. Malware: This is a virus engineered to incapacitate your computer. Its actions range from file deletion to data encryption, rendering your device inoperable. More than 400,000 new malware variants are surfacing daily. So, don’t underestimate their prevalence in free software.
  2. Trojan Horses: These are deceptive programs posing as harmless but help attackers access your system. They are the key gateways for installing additional malware on your Mac or stealing sensitive data.
  3. Adware and spyware: Adware is software that bombards your computer with intrusive ads while potentially harvesting your browsing habits to sell to advertisers. Free software may also be spyware that secretly monitors and relays your online activities to external entities.

You’ll need to employ good anti-virus software on your Mac to remove malware and some of these viruses. However, the most important thing is to exercise caution while downloading software and source exclusively from reputable platforms.

5.   The presence of malicious extensions

Free software often accompanies seemingly harmless browser extensions, concealing severe dangers. These extensions, harmless at first glance, can track your online activity or manipulate your browser’s functionality.

Sometimes, they may hijack your browser, redirecting you to other websites. If you suspect any extension’s strange behavior, promptly remove it from your browser. Remember that trustworthy sources always keep commendable extensions for your safe usage.

How to stay safe when downloading free software on your Mac

To keep your Mac safe from the threat of free software, you need to practice good digital hygiene and take precautions. Here are practical steps to consider:

1.   Rely on curated lists

Multiple reliable websites create lists of top-notch free software to download. The platforms conduct a rigorous screening process to check out any lingering issues and risks associated with each free software.

Relying on these sites means you have a compilation of software options carefully screened and curated to various needs and preferences. It saves you time and reduces the risk of downloading potentially harmful free software.

2.   Ensure you know the developer

One common mistake most users make is going all out on their own and downloading free software without even knowing who developed it. If you’re a Mac user, establishing trust with software developers is what you need to keep your device safe.

For example, start with renowned and established companies like Microsoft or Google. Go ahead and ensure you only download the software directly from their official websites. This will prevent you from falling prey to fake websites.

3.   Consider reviews from other users

Make a point to check online reviews before downloading and installing any free software on your device. Some real experiences from users interacting with the software help you make an informed decision.

Start by weighing every firsthand account of those who’ve used the software to know its strengths and weaknesses. Also, check out reviews from those who’ve installed the software on Mac versions like yours.

4.   Know that free downloads ≠ free software

Lastly, avoid assuming any free download means free software. Any software labeled as free means you have the liberty to use it the way you want. You can share and make modifications to it.

Some distributors may cleverly label software “free” without entirely meaning it. The idea is to coerce you into downloading it, only for them to develop new terms after the trial period. Always verify the terms of use to avoid unexpected charges.

Final thoughts

Understanding the risks associated with free software is pivotal to safeguarding your Mac. You’ll be better equipped to deploy necessary proactive measures, such as utilizing reputable anti-virus software and exercising discernment in downloading practices.

This way, you can secure your device against potential threats, ensuring a safer digital experience.