Think of peer to peer sites as big locker rooms: the site provides a place for individuals to share files, and the site owners don't monitor each file that a user uploads. Sure, the room itself could have hazards, but even at a reputable gym, the owner can't control what customers are keeping in every locker. If you want a truly safe download, you need to find not only a trustworthy site but remember that each file you download could contain malware.
Downloading files isn't the only way to get malware on your machine, though. Sometimes just loading a website can expose your computer to malicious software [source: Google]. This is sometimes called a "drive by download," because it happens without you doing anything but loading the website [source: Malware Prevention]. That means that before you download a thing, you should look for a trusted file-sharing site. Here are other some signals that should give you pause before you download:
Not all download sites are peer to peer sharing sites. Peer to peer file sharing is the locker room scenario we talked about earlier. Peer to peer, or P2P, sites are just conduits for users to upload and download files. Even if the site itself isn't malicious, you're trusting hundreds or even thousands of strangers to only share what they say they're sharing and nothing more.
There are more reputable peer to peer download sites out there, like RapidShare and MediaFire. Just visiting these sites shouldn't put your computer at risk, but a lot of the material on there is illegal, like pirated TV shows, movies, and software. There's nothing stopping users from sharing infected files, sometimes without even knowing it. If one user downloads a pirated episode of "Weeds" that's infected with malware, he can then share that file on a peer to peer site without realizing that he's spreading malware around.
You can consider this author's note a bonus tip on how to download free media safely: bribe a savvy friend into doing it for you. Save your computer and barter some homemade cupcakes for the files you want, because -- as you probably gleaned from this article -- if you don't know what you're doing, downloading files from the Internet is pretty risky. 781b155fdc