In this article, I will explain how to safely download and install programs from the World Wide Web (Internet) on your Mac.

First, you need to check your system preferences because the default setting is for programs to be downloaded only from the Mac App Store. You need to open to System Preferences > Security > General and under Allow apps downloaded from: select Anywhere. If this selection is grayed out and you are not allowed to change it, you need to unlock your settings. You click the lock in the bottom left of the screen and type in your Administrator password. The screenshot below shows how the options to change will be gray, and it also shows the unlock screen that requires the Administrator password.

Safely Download-1

I strongly suggest you go back and change this setting back to something more secure after your download. There are two secure settings: Mac App Store or Mac App Store and identified developers.

Let me say that the safest and most secure way to install programs is through the App Store. Apple has strict security and developer standards that each program (app) must meet. Apple reviews each app before it’s accepted by the store, and if there’s ever a problem with an app, Apple can quickly remove it from the store.

Before the App Store appeared, we all downloaded programs via an Internet website, and for some programs that is still done today. For the security of your system, you should verify and trust the source website for those downloads. Personally, I trust few and always suggest using caution when downloading anything from the Internet. Whether it is a free or paid program, going straight to the manufacturer or developer of the program is always best. For example, if you want to download the Internet browser Google Chrome, it is best to get it directly from Google.

A good example of this is below. I simply searched on Google for “Mac Google Chrome download.” Notice that the very first selection is actually an Ad. In this case, the Ad is okay as it links directly to Google. Be cautious, thought, as often the Ad is not the best place to download and is just a paid for Ad that makes it the first selection listed. You can read below the link to see what the actual website address is. You will also notice that a few entries down I have a big X. Another misconception is that the pages with “stars” are reliable, but they aren’t always! Although Softronic and CNet have several stars, I try to NOT download from those websites.

Safely Download-2

Also carefully watch during the installation of the program, especially Internet browsers, for a checkmark box that will make this program your default Internet browser. If you do not want it to be, you will need to uncheck the box. Typically this option is one of the last screens in the installation wizard. Also note that the checkmark box can be a variety of things, so just remember to look at exactly what is listed before selecting next or install.

Safely Download-3

Once you have found the program that you want to download, you need to check and make sure that the program is compatible with your operating system. To check what operating system you are running, select the Apple logo  in the top left menu bar and then select About This Mac. You will see OSX and underneath Version 10.##.#. It is this version number that you need to check and make sure the program you want to download is compatible. You also want to check the hardware requirements of the program, like the GB of RAM required to run the program. Again, you can find all of your system information in selecting About This Mac > More Info.

After you have checked compatibility, have verified and trust the website you are downloading from, and lastly checked your security settings you are ALMOST ready to download the program.

Misguided places to download software is by trick buttons/links in advertising that is displayed on the website you’re intending to download software from. You must be careful and watch the website, reload the page and watch where the advertising changes so you don’t accidentally click a download looking button in an advertisement or you will be downloading something you won’t want or something malicious. I have a picture below of a great example of misleading download buttons.

Safely Download-4

So after you have visited the website, found the software you want, and determined the correct link to download, you are ready to click the link to download the program. Once downloaded, the file will be inside your Downloads folder next to the Trashcan. If you aren’t sure which one is your downloads folder, you can hover your mouse over the icon and the name of it will appear.

Within the Downloads Folder you will see all the items you have downloaded from the Internet. Find the file you just downloaded, either by name or by date modified and double click on the file. For Mac users, the file will have an extension of .DMG. If the file you downloaded is an .EXE file, do not open as this type of file is for a Windows (PC) computer.

After double clicking the .DMG file, the next step will either be a pop up window saying to drag the program to the Applications folder or an installer wizard will run and you simply follow the instructions. NOTE that installer wizards will often try to sneak a checkbox that will change your default browser or other settings, and so be careful and uncheck any box that asks to make changes you don’t want. OS X will ask if you approved of this download, and it will check to see if it’s part of it’s database of malware and cancel it if it is. Lastly, the system will may ask you for the Administrator password.

Now when you have finished installing, click and drag the installer package (.dmg file) to the Trash can. This turns into an Eject so it ejects the .dmg volume.

Security Tip:

You need to keep the Download Folder clear and empty and not store anything there for long, just to be safe. There is a possibility that bad or hijacked websites could cause a download without your knowledge, and on high-speed connections you won’t even see it sometimes because it’s so fast.

If a Trojan is lying in wait for you in the Downloads Folder and you double click on it to see what it is, it could compromise your machine. So, it’s just best to keep the Downloads Folder clean and clear except when in use.

Some excellent free software to test your website downloading skills on:

VLC free content and Icecast Internet Radio (more than iTunes!)

VirtualDJ free popular DJ software

GIMP image editor for OS X, free

LibreOffice (free office like suite, works with Office files)

Audacity – free audio program

Firefox (highly customizable free web browser with the most add-ons, themes and personas)

ClamXAv (free antivirus)

If you follow these steps when downloading programs from the Internet, you can enjoy all that the World Wide Web has to offer and feel confident in safely doing it.