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The Risks Of Downloading Unverified Drivers

November 14th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

It is tempting to simply plug a file name or device name into Google when a driver error starts causing problems for you. For many computer owners, this is a serious mistake. Basic web searches can draw up thousands or even millions of relevant pages. A search for “driver files” alone brings up nearly 800,000,000 results. Some of those websites are guaranteed to be peddling paid solutions that don’t work, instant installers that come with viruses, and keyloggers that can steal your personal data. Sticking with appropriate and trusted sources for drivers is the only way to keep your system’s most sensitive files from becoming corrupted.


Know Your File Types


Knowing the file types commonly associated with driver types can help you avoid the most obvious attempts to scam you. You shouldn’t need to try and find system drivers online when they are available right from Microsoft, even for Windows XP and other older operating systems. Most computer owners turn to Google for upgrades and peripheral equipment instead. These devices may have driver files with extensions like:


  • DLL – The Dynamic Link Libraries are some of the most common driver files. One printer or USB device may need a dozen or more DLL drivers, but each one can be removed and replaced independently in case of corruption.
  • DRV – Nearly all files with this extension are Windows driver files. This format is used for both important system files and communication with video cards or network devices.
  • INF – Microsoft also reports that driver files must be accompanied with an information file in order for installation to complete. If your package includes an INF file, it’s more likely to be a legitimate installation package.
  • ZIP – In some cases, DLL and INF files are packed together into an archive file with an extension of ZIP or RAR. However, the contents can just as likely be viruses or malware.
  • EXE – Avoid downloading EXE installation files unless you are getting them from a manufacturer or a similarly trusted website. Most printer, camera, and other device companies do deliver their drivers and proprietary software this way, but it is also used by individuals trying to mine data as well.

Start With The Manufacturer


Your search for the right driver files should always begin with the manufacturer of the particular item or device. These uploads are protected and trustworthy, and infections that affect them must come from your own system. Many well-meaning friends and computer fans spread around viruses by accident when attempting to help others find the driver files they need. Many devices still used today were made by manufacturers who still support them. Even if you are dealing with a 10 year old iPod or a printer that is going on 15, you may be able to get the drivers you need straight from Apple or Dell.


What To Do With Untrustworthy Files


If you have already downloaded a file that seems suspicious, there are a few actions you need to take immediately to protect your system and your personal information.

  1. Delete the file immediately if you do not trust it. Find its download location, right click on the actual file or files, and click on Delete. Visit your Recycle Bin on your desktop and empty it to ensure the files aren’t accidentally opened.
  2. If you have opened or executed them, close them. You can use the task manager to check for programs running in the background matching the file’s name, then close them as well. This will allow you to delete the original files.
  3. Disconnect from the Internet by unplugging the relevant cables or shutting off your wireless adapter.
  4. Immediately run an antivirus scan with your chosen software for the job. For good measure, run separate spyware and malware scans as well.
  5. Do not use that computer until the scans have all completed. Entering data into your bank’w website or your email account could leave you the victim of identity theft. Use another system that isn’t connected to the potential infection if you need to access the Internet while waiting on results.
  6. Treat any infections or infestations that are found. Do not attempt to download and install a trustworthy driver file until any viruses or other unwanted codes are gone first.


Windows Update And Driver Signing


Back when Windows 2000 was first released, Microsoft introduced a very important new tool to help computer owners avoid incompatible or corrupted driver files. This tool is free and is included in every copy of the Windows XP operating system. If you allow Windows Update to handle the installation of new drivers, it will run the files through the Driver Signing protocol first. This uses codes to determine if you are working with a genuine copy of the driver or a falsified replacement.


Trustworthy Secondary Sources


Users who are coming up empty when trying to find a manufacturer or copy in the Microsoft database can turn to trustworthy driver databases. Be sure to check for signs of legitimacy like privacy policies and TRUSTe approval for data handling. This ensures that the website is providing you with legitimate and safe driver files rather than viruses and keyloggers. Be especially wary of sites hosted for free or files posted on forums and similar social sites. If you can’t find a copy on one of the top three trusted driver websites, it may not be available at all.


Watch Out For Third Parties


Some advanced users like to create homemade drivers for products that they want to adjust the behavior of. While this may sound like a good idea if you want a faster system or heard about accessing new digital camera features, it can definitely backfire. These independent third party developers don’t have the budget and resources for full scale bug testing like the device manufacturers. They can’t necessarily promise that their hard work won’t cause serious damage to your system due to an unforeseen problem. Use them only if you are aware of the risks and have enough computer skills to repair the damage these drivers could cause.

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