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Top 5 red flags to notice before downloading new software

software download red flags

As with all other professionals operating online, legal professionals need to be wary. Malicious software (malware) poses one of the greatest cybersecurity threats to law firms and other legal workplaces.

Malware is the general term for software or apps that are designed to damage or contaminate electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, and tablets.

Once installed, the malware could spy on your online activities or steal information stored on the device. In a ransomware attack, the malware could even lock you out of access to your computer or system until a ransom is paid.

Fortunately, there are common warning signs that you are being targeted with malware.

Here we review five red flags that legal professionals should note before downloading software onto any work computer or other digital device.

#1. Promotions for antivirus software and computer optimizers

One of the most common methods of inducing malware downloads is the use of promotions for antivirus software.

For example, you may visit a website and see a popup claiming your computer has been infected with dozens of viruses. The popup will also urge you to take “immediate action,” or words to that effect, by clicking on a link.

These fake antivirus programs come in two forms — (1) legitimate antivirus software that has been modified, or (2) fake antivirus software built from scratch.

In either event, it is critical to not click on the link or install the software. These scams are an attempt to prey on the less tech-savvy among us, so avoid becoming a victim.

Other variations of this threat include offers to optimize your computer or update your web browser. These programs can detect what type of browser you are using and tailor the message accordingly.

As with antivirus programs, this type of software should never be installed based simply on an offer popping up on your screen.

#2. Websites requesting software installation

Another malware trick is websites that request you install software in order to view their content. The named software will often be quite common, such as Adobe Acrobat or Flash, which may lull some users into completing the download.

By hovering your cursor over the link without clicking on it, you may be able to determine whether the link is directed to the vendor’s website.

However, the best practice is to not click on these links at all.

Unless you are absolutely sure the software is legitimate and needed, you should not install it on any work device. And since you will likely not know this without checking with your IT department, better to avoid the installation altogether.

#3. Emails with download links

Yet another malware red flag is emails with links to suspicious downloads.

Many of these emails will appear to come from trusted sources such as your bank, credit card company, or even someone from your contact list.

The email will generally include a link or attachment, that will then direct you to a website designed to look legitimate, where you will be urged to input security information.

Sometimes, clicking on the link itself may be sufficient to install the malware.

The best course of action is to simply not click on these links when these emails slip through your spam filters.

Also be aware that legitimate institutions will never provide links with these methods. For example, if your software or app requires an update, you will receive the update through the software itself, not with an email.

#4. Update alert from software not on your system

When you receive an alert to update your software, a primary point to consider is whether that software is even on your system.

This may seem obvious, but it is very common for legal professionals to not know all the software installed on work computers.

When you receive these update alerts, it is advisable to check with your IT department first. And following the lesson from the previous item, simply treat these “updates” as typical emails and do not click on the links they contain.

#5. Post-download signs of malware

While it is obviously better to prevent malware downloads from occurring in the first place, some may still occur. In this case, you should recognize the post-download signs of malware infection so that you can remedy the problem.

Some common signs of malware on your device include increased pop-up ads, slower operations, and shorter battery life.

The infected device could frequently freeze or crash, or it may have issues with internet connectivity.

You could see unexpected changes to the browser’s home page, or you may notice a new app you do not recognize.

Once you suspect the presence of malware on your device, you should take immediate responsive action, likely with the help of your IT department. The general approach to malware is to first isolate the infected device from the rest of the system before cleaning the device, changing login information, and taking other security measures.

Malware attacks are a constant threat to the legal industry in this modern digital world. However, learn to recognize these malware red flags and you can at least reduce the threat to yourself and your workplace.


  • Mike Robinson

    After a fifteen-year legal career in business and healthcare finance litigation, Mike Robinson now crafts compelling content that explores topics around technology, litigation, and process improvements in the legal industry.

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