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Is it Safe to Download Free E-books Online?

Free ebooks and cybersecurity?

No one would doubt that books can make a tremendous difference to people's lives, and promoting literacy is certainly in the best interests of society. However, the rise of websites offering supposedly free e-books is creating security risks for businesses and individuals alike.

First, though, let's begin by pointing out that there are some legitimate sources of free e-books. Many classics have passed into the public domain and are now freely available. Most e-readers will have an online shopping facility and browsing the 'free books' category will quickly reveal a host of popular titles - often by authors ranging from Charlotte Bronte to Roald Dahl. In addition, many new and self-published authors promote themselves by means of free give-aways so a keen-eyed shopper will often be able to find attractive freebies on mainstream sites such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

However, while these mainstream shopping platforms are generally reliable, there is a murkier seam of the internet where website owners claim to be able to give their visitors free digital copies of a much wider range of books. As the old saying has it, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Many of these pirate sites look very respectable and they couch their offering in language of 'public domain works', with offers to remove any work that is found to infringe an author's copyright. However, these very notices - saying in effect "we don't think we're infringing anyone's copyright but please tell us if we are" are generally a good indication that a site is dealing in pirated books.

The reality is that most of these platforms will have been created with an ulterior motive, and that usually has nothing to do with a burning passion for promoting public literacy. Often, such sites can be a mechanism for distributing malware-infected files - files that can install spyware, viruses and ransomware.

Here are some general rules to apply when downloading e-books.

  • Only use legitimate, trusted, well known retailers.
  • If a book costs money on most other websites, the publisher is unlikely to have consented to its being offered for free somewhere else. If it's free on only one little-known site, the chances are that it's an illegal copy.
  • Never download an ebook you know to be pirated. You can never be sure what malware it might install on your device/computer.
  • Do not get involved in distributing ebooks without a cast iron legal agreement with the publisher/author. If you are found to be guilty of piracy, you could face fines and a criminal record.
  • Always keep your devices up to date with the latest anti-virus protection, but remember: even the best software won't necessarily protect you against a file that you have consciously decided to install. (Those pop-ups saying "only install files from a trusted source" are there for a very good reason.)
  • Paying a few pounds for a good book is a much better deal than falling victim to ransomware or identity theft.

security is for everyone

Keep your defences up

All IT devices are potentially subject to malware and attack. It's therefore important to make sure that your firewall and anti-virus software is kept up to date, and that all your software has the latest security patches - but that's only half the battle. Human behaviour is the other dimension in the battle against cybercriminals, so it's important that you and your staff maintain good levels of awareness about the latest threats.

AMP can help you maintain staff awareness with workshops and periodic penetration testing. To find out more about how we can help you maintain effective security, please call us today on 0800 368 7700.

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