What can I safely download?

Sales of CDs and DVDs are dropping as many people now choose to download music, games, TV shows and films. 'Download' just means to transfer a file from the internet to your computer.

If the idea of downloading sounds a bit daunting, don't worry. It's not as complicated as you imagine. In fact, it's really quite straightforward. But you do need to be aware of some potential issues or risks you may face.

Here are some helpful pointers about downloading files and some tips on how to steer clear of unsafe or corrupt files.

Getting started

Lara Lewington shows Anita how to download a file

The first thing you need to do is to go to a reputable website.

You can find a list of all legal music download sites on the Pro Music website, where you will find the likes of Play, Amazon, Napster and iTunes listed (along with many others).

An equivalent for legal film downloads is the FindAnyFilm website. You can find links to both of these sites at the end of this guide.

By using a legal site you can be as confident as possible that your bank details are going to remain safe and secure.

Depending on your computer and the site you are using, you may have to install a program to download, organise and play your music, games or films. Just follow the step-by-step instructions provided with the program.

You'll need to create an account with the online store and type in your payment card details so you can pay for what you buy. You'll also have to read and agree to the terms and conditions of the particular site you're using.

Choose what you want

If you want to download some music, for example, you can search the site by typing in the name of the artist or song title. If you want to hear a sample of the song to check it's definitely the one you want, then you can click on the 'Play' symbol and play a sample of the song.

Downloading the track to your computer usually involves clicking on a 'Buy' symbol or link. Depending on your device, you may be prompted to save the file or it may be saved automatically.

Whether you are downloading music, films or games, the same principles are going to apply in terms of searching for, selecting, previewing and downloading your chosen file or files.

Helpful hints

When saving downloaded files, it's best to create a special folder called 'Downloads' or 'My Downloads' and save each file to the same place. That way, you'll always be able to find the files that you need, delete the ones you don't, and back up the ones you want to keep.

If you download large files, eg movies, it's better to use a file download manager.

These can speed things up by downloading different parts of a large file at the same time.

They can also download long lists of files at pre-set times, so you can set them to work while you are asleep.

Word of warning

Remember that while most files you can download are safe, others may be disguised as something less pleasant than the title suggested - for example, computer viruses or offensive content.

Plenty of cyber criminals will try to get round your computer's defences to install 'malware' (malicious software specifically designed to damage your computer or corrupt your data).

Websites offering pirate software or games, music downloads and other 'something-for-nothing' attractions are more likely to be infected.

Don't become an easy target. Avoid sites you can't trust and make sure you have installed anti-virus/anti-spyware programs so you can scan files before running them. That way you can stay safe while you download.

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