What is a Drive-By Download?

Mary McMahon

A drive-by download is a download of a program that initiates without a user's consent, or under circumstances where a user does not understand what is being consented to. Such downloads are used to install adware, spyware, and other malware on user computers and they are very common in some corners of the Internet. Researchers conducting studies on drive-by downloads have discovered a variety of tactics used by companies to force users to download material, and even users with secured systems can experience problems.

Drive-by downloads initiate without the consent of the user.
Drive-by downloads initiate without the consent of the user.

In one form of drive-by download, a user starts automatically downloading a program or resource by visiting a website or opening an email. Some downloads use a deceptive popup box, asking people to authorize the installation of a plugin, for example. The use of “barnacles,” downloads embedded inside downloads, is another tactic. In this case, the user initiates a wanted download and another program is hidden inside, installing at the same time the user opens the downloaded material.

Drive-by downloads can present a significant security risk. They may include contents that can harm a user's computer or expose people to risks like identity theft, in addition to slowing down a system. Downloads may also do things like displays ads against the will of the user or redirecting users when they try to browse the web. A drive-by download is hard to eradicate, and may not come with uninstall functionality. This can force the user to pay a technician to remove the unwanted download.

Keeping security settings high can reduce the risk of a drive-by download, as can reading dialog boxes carefully. If a box pops up asking a user to authorize the installation of a plugin or program, the user should check on the origins of the box. A seemingly trusted website can start executing drive-by downloads and it is important to be aware that even trusted sites may be compromised or may have deals with advertisers to install unwanted applications on the computers of their users.

Tutorials on removing unwanted programs and files are available online for people who cannot get rid of something their computers have downloaded by accident or without consent in a drive-by download. It is also possible to retain the services of a computer technician to remove the download. Technicians can also review the system for security flaws and make recommendations to decrease the risk of security exploits in the future. Changing a few settings can sometimes make a computer much safer for the user.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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