Spyware Weekly Newsletter :· January 6

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Predator or Parasite?

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I can't remember where I spotted this term recently. It was someone writing about the malicious adware used these days to hijack computers. The writer didn't say so, but I assume he was talking about things such as CWS, C2Media/Lop and Xupiter. The term the writer used was "predatory advertising".

"Predatory advertising": it has a certain ring to it. It is certainly a fitting label for the garbage mentioned earlier. It also would fit the bill for those programs that make unauthorized changes to web sites, programs such as Ezula. Ezula and other software like it will modify a page on a web site owned by someone else to insert sponsored hyperlinks. Some software will even replace affiliate ID numbers with that of its maker. The vendors of these programs do not have permission to do this and are stealing from web site owners.

I believe a better term is "parasitic adware". With only a few exceptions, the things we deal with at the message board either deliver ads themselves or hijack the browser to a pay-per-click search portal. The purpose of this, of course, is to bring in advertising revenue.

They piggyback on legitimate software as a sponsor. They use a swarm of pop-ups to distract the user from noticing something installing itself via ActiveX. They exploit flaws in Internet Explorer and MS Java. They come attached to spam like a trojan. They'll do anything and everything to install the software.

They leech onto the systems of people who don't want them and derive unearned income from people who don't know why ads are popping up constantly or why they can't reset their home page. Whether you call them predators or parasites, spyware or adware, this software and the people that make them are all garbage.

The experts at the message board help hundreds of people every day to remove unwanted parasites from their systems. We can track down how a browser hijacker is being distributed, which security flaw it exploits, what changes it makes, how they profit from it. Often we can often track down the people responsible for making the hijacker, find their main web site, even find addresses. And when we find them, we can do nothing about it because it's all perfectly legal.

When are regulators going to wake up and outlaw some of this stuff? You are not allowed to walk onto someone's lawn and hammer a sign into the ground (in most places anyway). You are not allowed to walk into someone's home and glue posters to the wall. You are not allowed to spray paint an ad on the side of someone's car or change their radio station to an infomercial. How can it be legal to hack a computer, install software on it and use that person's private property as a billboard?

I guess we'll just have to wait until it happens to someone at the FTC. Spammers have been exploiting Windows Messenger Service for well over a year. The FTC stepped in after all that time only after one of their high muckety mucks was spammed. We'll see what the FTC has to say after someone there has a run-in with lop.com.



Pop-Up Stopper Companion

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Program: Pop-Up Stopper Companion
Author: Panicware
Platform: Internet Explorer 5.x - 6 and Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT, 2000 and XP
License: $39.95 $25.96
35% off for SpywareInfo readers until January 13, 2004. Use coupon code SPYWARE at checkout. This discount applies to ALL Panicware products.

Panicware's top of the line product features their most advanced ad blocking, cleaning and surfing enhancement technology. Panicware's Companion is not just a pop-up stopper. It also includes a full-featured tracks eraser and custom bookmarks separate from Internet Explorer's bookmarks. It uses Panicware's excellent pop-up stopper to block those god awful pop ups.

At the click of a button, Pop-up Stopper Companion removes the following traces of your PC activity:

  • Drop-down URL History
  • Browser history
  • Browser cache
  • Cookies
  • Autocomplete forms data
  • Autocomplete passwords
  • Run history
  • Find history
  • Recently viewed documents
  • Empty recycle bin

You can scheduled cleaning times so it automatically will delete what you tell it to delete. The pop-up blocker includes full stats on how many pop-ups were blocked and from what site. You can whitelist certain sites so that pop-ups are never blocked there.

For more information, visit http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/downloads/panicware/



Norton targets SpywareNuker

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SpywareNuker is a program I've mentioned a few times in the past. The maker of Spybot S&D has been stating for nearly a year that SpywareNuker's target database included data from his own database without his permission. Trek Blue, the company that makes SpywareNuker, denies this of course. However, I have seen some of the evidence myself and I am convinced that the allegations are true, based on that evidence.

I have mentioned previously that Symantec now includes detection for adware and spyware in their Norton Antivirus product. Norton now is targeting SpywareNuker under the "Adware" category.

Summary

Behavior
Adware.SpywareNuker is an adware program that downloads advertisements from a server and displays them on the system. It has the ability track your Web browsing habits, and to download new versions of the software with additional functionality without user notification.

Symptoms

  • Files on the system detected as Adware.SpywareNuker.
  • Computer attempts to connect to www.spywarenuker.com.

There are a number of so-called antispyware products out there that I would not recommend at all. Some deserve targeting themselves by legitimate antispyware programs. SpywareNuker is one of those. Another is BPS Spyware Remover.

There is even one so-called antispyware program called Virtual Bouncer that installs from an ActiveX drive by, then tries to scam the user into paying by credit card for instructions on how to remove it. Extortion anyone?

For some unknown reason, people google for Virtual Bouncer, find SpywareInfo and then send me the most idiotic emails about it, thinking I have something to do with it. I am sick and tired of it. I've started forwarding these emails to the abuse department of their ISP when they are harassing or threatening. I've tried to be nice about it but my temper has a short fuse.

As with any product, check it out before you buy it. Ask around for opinions before putting down money for any antispyware. If you'll excuse me for tooting my own horn, the best place to ask for opinions on an antispyware program is probably SpywareInfo's own message board. Thousands of people visit there every day and, chances are, someone will know something about the program you want to try.



Cell Phone Spying

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Remember my paranoid ramble last issue about cell phone spying? New cell phones are required to allow emergency service operators to track their location. I said that cell phones should include the option to turn off that tracking feature.

Personally, I'd like to see it made a requirement that all cell phones let the user disable the feature except for when making emergency calls. No one else should have access to that information. It is not the purpose of the tracking system to let just anyone know your physical location on the planet.

Several readers wrote in to say their phone had that option. I believe I'll make a list of these phones and publish it somewhere. You shouldn't buy a telephone just because it does this one thing, but I certainly would recommend not buying one because it doesn't have the feature.

Readers wrote in to say that these cell phones let them disable the tracking features:

  • Nokia 3585i
  • Audiovox 8500
  • Motorola T730
  • Spring VGA1000
  • LG VX6000

Several people also mentioned that phones they received as part of Verizon cell phone service also lets them disable the tracking feature.

What about your phone? If your phone lets emergency operators track your location, does it also allow you to disable that tracking? Use this address and let me know. If your phone doesn't allow you to disable the tracking feature, I want to know that too. I want to publish a list on this and I'll do that in a few weeks, after enough responses are received.



Congress: No spamming unless you're one of us

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Even as the US Congress was passing legislation aimed at reducing spam, some members of Congress were themselves sending thousands of unsolicited emails to Americans to advertise their email lists.

Normally, politicians cannot communicate with potential voters for 90 days before an election. However, a loophole in the law allows members of Congress to send email to those subscribed to their lists, even during the blackout.

The members are buying tens of thousands of email addresses from data brokers, then combining them with information from credit agencies such as Equifax and cross-referencing them with voter registration files from their Congressional district.

To add insult to injury, the taxpayers are not only being spammed, they are footing the bill to buy their own information from the credit agencies. This ability of Congress to communicate with taxpayers, at taxpayer expense, is called the "Franking Privilege".

Banks, credit card companies and credit agencies always have treated information about consumers as an asset to be bought and sold without permission. Several state laws were created recently that would have required companies to have explicit permission from consumers before providing their information to third parties.

After heavy lobbying by the financial industry, Congress trumped those state laws with a more permissive Federal law that does not restrict the sale of consumer data. No provision was made for stronger state laws, which means those laws cannot be enforced now. Perhaps now we see why Congress passed that Federal law.



Rant: Companies should not be liable for porn spam

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Stories like this one tick me off.

The Bureau of National Affairs, a Washington, DC-based publisher and analyst of legal and regulatory developments, this year issued a study that concluded that, under current laws, employers who fail to address the issue of employees receiving pornographic spam at work face potential liability for a hostile work environment.

What? Excuse me? An employee is offended by a pornographic spam and somehow that becomes the employer's fault? My god people, get a grip. The concept that needs to be brought up here is "common sense". Go look it up some time.

What kind of greedy, sleazy person would even consider such a ridiculous thing? Anyone who sues their employer using this as an excuse should be blacklisted from any future work. Any judge who allows such a ridiculous case to go to trial should be disbarred.

The recipient of spam is not responsible for that spam being there. Part of the definition of spam is that the recipient does not want it. That is outrageous. Short of blocking all email, there is no way possible to ensure that spam won't reach an employee. Using this logic, people can sue their ISP for sexual harassment.

THIS IS STUPID!

You know what? I have the perfect solution to this. Change all the passwords to company email accounts. Then, force all employees to sign a statement before issuing them the new password. "You agree that any spam you receive arrived due to actions taken by the spammer, not by your employer. If you do not agree with this obvious truth, you are forbidden to access this email account."

There, problem solved.



Libertarian Heroes of 2003

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Radley Balko, known for roasting politicians who like to chip away at people's rights, has decided to start off the year by acknowledging a few rare politicians who do remember for whom they work. It is interesting reading.

I particularly like the story about freshman Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, one of Florida's representatives to Congress. Feeney probably won't be re-elected because his party won't support him. The GOP is punishing him for voting his conscious on a bill being pushed by the president instead of following the party line like a good boy.

It's probably better this way. Maybe his ethics and integrity will still be intact when he takes that plane ride home after this year's election. Quite a few members of Congress have sold both of those virtues by their 2nd or 3rd terms.



Spyware and Privacy in the News

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The Battle Against Junk Mail and Spyware on the Web

The new spam law does nothing about the invisible programs that invade our computers as we move from one Web site to the next. These insidious programs - variously known as adware, spyware and snoopware - can cause computers to call up aggressive ads or can actually track a user's movements through the Internet for use by marketers later on. The most sinister programs can record everything the user does, whether offline or surfing the Net.

Internet advertisers realize that ads work differently in the virtual world than in the real one. Ads that are noticed while sitting passively at the edge of a story in a magazine seem to have an impact in cyberspace only when they barge into the user's view by popping up from out of nowhere and jumping around.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/03/opinion/03SAT3.html (free reg required. Sorry)




Pentagon Criticized on High-Tech Spying

The Defense Department should have been more sensitive to concerns about potential government abuses of privacy from its highly criticized research project to predict terrorist attacks, the agency's inspector general has concluded.

In an oversight report, the inspector general's office said the Pentagon's research showed some promise.

But the lack of a formal assessment on the privacy implications for U.S. citizens means the Pentagon "risks spending funds to develop systems that may be neither deployable nor used to their fullest potential without costly revisions and retrofits," the report said.

Source: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20031230/D7VOTDF80.html




Federal Judge Dismisses Spam Suit by AOL

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by America Online against a group of Florida computer technicians who allegedly helped senders of junk e-mails.

Chief Judge Claude Hilton at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found on Dec. 24 that AOL had failed to show that Virginia had jurisdiction over the defendants simply because the company is located there and the e-mails had gone through its computers.

Seth Berenzweig, a lawyer for the defendants, said the decision will impact all lawsuits brought in Virginia against out-of-state defendants for sending "spam" e-mail.

Source: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20031231/D7VPJHHO0.html




CIA Museum Showcases Exotic Spy Gadgets

When the CIA's secret gadget-makers invented a listening device for the Asian jungles, they disguised it so the enemy wouldn't be tempted to pick it up and examine it: The device looked like tiger droppings.

The guise worked. Who would touch such a thing? The fist-sized, brown transmitter detected troop movements along the trails during fighting in Vietnam, a quiet success for a little-known group of researchers inside the world's premier intelligence agency.

The CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology is celebrating its 40th anniversary by revealing a few dozen of its secrets for a new museum inside its headquarters near Washington.

Source: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20031226/D7VMBFN01.html




Security fears over 'spyware'

Legislation may be introduced by the Federal Government to combat a new breed of software that tracks consumer details and can lead to identity theft, say privacy and internet experts.

The internet industry will lobby for the new laws, which are being advocated by the federal Privacy Commissioner, to fight "spyware" - sneaky software or files that install without a user's consent.

Consumers buying computers and broadband connections this Christmas may have to pay more for extra security and privacy software. Experts have warned that spyware may leave consumers exposed unless they get extra anti-virus software to ensure their private information doesn't end up on the internet.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/12/22/1071941668618.html