If you want to test a downloaded program but don’t want it destroying your data and sending your bank passwords to the other side of the world, you should probably test it in a safe environment that’s not connected to the rest of your home network. You can do this a number of ways; here are two suggestions:
- Download the program on a spare computer that’s not connected to the rest of your home network.
- Download the program in a virtual machine that’s isolated from your host machine.
If you don’t have a spare computer or want the convenience of testing without using a separate machine, you should use a virtual machine. In this guide, we’ll show you how to set up a virtual machine and how to isolate it from your home network so you can test software.
How to Set Up a Virtual Machine (VM)
To create a virtual machine, I recommend using Windows Virtual PC. Here’s some basic information on Windows Virtual PC and here are specific instructions for setting up a virtualized copy of Windows Vista (the same steps apply for creating a Virtual copy of Windows 7.)
How to Isolate Your VM from Your Home Network
Once your VM is up and running, you should isolate it’s connection to your local area network. To this in a Windows 7 VM:
- Click the network icon in the system tray and click Open Network and Sharing Center.
- In the left-hand menu, click Change adapter settings.
- Right click each network connection and click Disable.
- Verify the connection is disabled:
- Now open Internet Explorer and verify you truly have no internet connection by attempting to browse to any webpage:
Optional: Install Anti-virus (AV) Software
You don’t have to do this, but I recommend you install AV software so you can understand a malicious program if you download one. An AV program will (hopefully) detect the file and give you more information on the threats it poses. Not sure which AV program to use? See this list: Top 5 Free Anti-malware Programs [2010 Edition].
Optional: Test Your AV Software
If you want to be sure your AV software is working, learn how to test it here: Test to See if Your Antivirus Software Works.
Install Programs and Test
Now comes the fun part: testing suspicious software to see what it does to your VM.
I chose this file: Suspicious Download.exe. How exciting:
Lets see… a progress bar for starting the program… looks pretty legitimate to me:
Oh #@!* this doesn’t look good. I guess I’ll go with Format Harddisk. Seems pretty harmless, I mean it could probably do with some cleanup anyway…
While it cleans up my disk I check the definition of “format” with respect to a hard disk… #@!*!! Double #@!*!!! It erases everything?!?
An… RSOD?? Erm.. this really can’t be good.
BIOS you say… that seems important and now it’s corrupted…
Luckily for me I used a Virtual Machine to test this out and luckily for me this program is a joke.
So, there you have it. A safe(r) way to test suspicious software without losing everything!