There are many websites online that offer free screensavers for download. The question remains though, are those screensavers safe? By downloading and installing these so-called free screensavers will any harm come to your computer? This is a legitimate concern, which needs to be addressed before any user even thinks about installing a free screensaver.
There are several malicious programs that can come bundled with a free screensaver. These will mainly be viruses, spyware, adware, and toolbars. There are a few variations within these programs, but in the main, they are considered undesirable unless the user specifically requests them. And out of that list, the only one that you would even consider installing would be a friendly toolbar. But more on that later.
Below is a brief run-down of each type of malicious program that you would want to avoid:
Viruses: These must be avoided at all costs as they can detrimentally harm your computer, often to the point of losing unrecoverable data. If you are afraid of being infected with viruses, only download software from trusted sites where programs are verified and tested, such as at Download.com. Download.com also hosts its own files, which means that software cannot be altered at a later date to include any viruses.
Spyware: These are programs that are used to unethically track and spy on your internet online activities. The data can then be sold to advertisers or used to change your browser and computer functions. Spyware is one of the worst types of bundled software and can be difficult to remove.
Adware: Adware is a little less scary than spyware, though no less annoying to the average computer user. Adware programs will continually display popups and unwanted adverts while you are browsing. Sometimes you may not even realize that you have adware unless you notice an excessive amount of popups during your normal surfing (where there were no popups before).
Toolbars: Finally we have toolbars, which is a mixed basket. Some toolbars are actually quite useful, such as the Google Toolbar, or some that offer increased entertainment experience like the StumbleUpon toolbar. Having said that, there are other toolbars that are used as a means of displaying ads and are hard to uninstall. Some of these unwanted toolbars come bundled with free screensavers or software, often from some so-called ‘big name’ companies.
It is extremely important that you do your research before you download screensavers. Read the Terms of Service, and Conditions of Use on the websites, as companies are required by law to inform users what they would be installing.
Make sure you read the fine print. Not just what is on the download page. Sometimes they will say ‘No spyware’, but they do not mention anything about adware. Are you prepared to put up with some (or a lot) of advertisements for a free screensaver? Most people certainly should not.