Spyware Weekly Newsletter :: August 15, 2006
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Wherever the term "adware" is used, it is referring to a category of software, not to any particular company or product.
The contents of this newsletter is all commentary.
Table of Contents
Washington State Files Spyware Lawsuit
The Washington State Attorney-General's office has filed suit against four California companies for violating the state's antispyware laws. Digital Enterprises, Alchemy Communications, AccessMedia Networks and Innovate Networks are accused of violating Washington's Computer Spyware Act and the Consumer Protection Act.
According to Washington Attorney-General Rob McKenna, these companies install software that takes control of a consumer’s computer by launching aggressive and persistent pop-ups. "Thousands of consumers nationwide have complained to my office, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and others about the defendants’ unfair practices.", McKenna said in a press release.
The software is installed as part of a three-day trial for various web sites that offer movie downloads, including movieland.com. Once the trial period is over, the software relentlessly pops up demands for payments. The software and the web sites make empty threats of suing individual users, if they do not pay.
Many people who find this software on their computers say they did not download or install it knowingly. They believe it installed without notice, alongside various free programs found on the internet. If a person attempts to remove the software from the Windows control panel, a web page pops up which demands payment.
Washington State consumers who have experienced similar problems concerning movieland.com or other defendants named in the state’s suit can file a complaint with the Attorney-General’s Office online at www.atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636 (number available only within Washington State) to request a complaint form.
A copy of the lawsuit is available from the Washington Attorney-General's web site.
http://www.atg.wa.gov/releases/2006/rel_Movieland_Spyware_Lawsuit_081406.html :: Press Release
Webroot Spy Sweeper and Window Washer
Platform: Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP
Spy Sweeper License (one year):
Window Washer License:
Purchase Spy Sweeper:
Purchase Window Washer:
Webroot's Spy Sweeper is an outstanding, award-winning antispyware program. The reason that it is "award-winning" is simple - it is very good at what it does. Two different versions of Spy Sweeper have been named as PCMag's "Editor's Choice" in 2006 and PCWorld included Spy Sweeper among the 100 Best Products of the Year.
I retested this program a few weeks ago, to see what had changed. It was a bit of a shock. Spy Sweeper would not let me infect myself. I had to disable one of the protective features just to load the web site that I intended to use as a source of infection.
With that out of the way, I loaded the malicious web site and let it have its fun with Internet Explorer. Spy Sweeper leapt into action and blocked literally dozens of programs from being installed through ActiveX.
A couple of installers did manage to sneak through. Every time one of them attempted to install a piece of spyware, Spy Sweeper blocked it. The files were dropped but nothing managed to install itself. One brief scan by Spy Sweeper eliminated the few files that were downloaded and the test computer was perfectly clean afterwards.
I have played with just about every legitimate antispyware program available. This was the most impressive performance that I have seen to date. I don't do an "Editor's Choice Award" but, if I did, I would have to give it to Webroot's Spy Sweeper.
Webroot is offering a $10.00 discount to SpywareInfo readers until August 22. The discount applies to Spy Sweeper as well as Window Washer. Information about Window Washer is available on the site.
If you have any problems with the ordering page or need to purchase several copies of this program, please email Catherine http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/email2.php.
Victory For Privacy In Will County
If you own a dog in Will County, Illinois, your county government deserves a pat on the back. They have successfully fended off a lawsuit from an Ohio company that wanted to send you junk mail.
Ohio based JGB Distributing sought to misuse the Illinois open records law to obtain the mailing address of every dog owner in Will County. JGB Distributing makes and sells one of those "invisible fence" systems. These systems usually consist of a collar that delivers a nasty electric shock to the dog, if it travels beyond a buried wire.
Will County officials refused to hand over the records of registered dogs in their county. JGB Distributing took the county to court to force them to turn over the information. The company argued that the county could not withhold the information legally, because of Illinois open records laws. The court ruled against the company last week.
I hope this case sets an important precedent. It is important that most government records be available to the public. However, those records should not be given to companies so that they can use the information to send unwanted junk mail to people.
It is unfortunate that JGB Distributing wasted taxpayer money by filing this lawsuit. However, it would seem to have been money well spent.
http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews/city/4_1_JO12_DOGLAW_S10812.htm :: Judge rules in pet information lawsuit
Some SpywareInfo Updates
After a brief struggle with a php script, I have the RSS feed from FlyingHamster.com loading on SpywareInfo. The last eight items that are posted to FlyingHamster will appear on the site's sidebar. The file is cached for an hour, so it won't be perfectly synchronized with the hamster, but it should be close enough.
My PC troubles should be over some time this afternoon. The replacement motherboard has arrived and will be installed. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, HOPEFULLY that will go smoothly and I can stop using this slow &$#)*@! laptop. Read last week's newsletter, if you have no idea what I'm talking about.
The very first thing I plan to do, when I have my PC running again, is to test Limewire for the file sharing list. The number of emails coming from people who want to know whether or not it installs spyware is unbelievable!! I promise that it will be the first thing I do, once I have that PC running again.
For the time being, all of you Limewire fans should take a look at Frostwire. Frostwire is Limewire in all but name and I can guarantee that the installer includes no third-party bundles. I use it myself.
The second thing I plan to do is to test out a certain version of a Linux distro. Damn Small Linux can be run from a folder from within another operating system, assuming it has large enough memory and processor speed. I am going to compare it to VMware's Browser Appliance and see which one is easier to use. If it works out, I will start recommending it to people as an alternative way to surf the web safely.
http://www.flyinghamster.com/ :: FlyingHamster
Flashback - Is Adware All That Bad?
It is time to ask the question: "Is adware all that bad?"
For a couple of years now, the makers of software parasites - the large ones anyway - have been putting on a non-stop public relations campaign. They don't make "spyware"; they make "adware". And "adware" is good. It says so right there in the press releases.
It is all about perception. Calling the first advertising parasite "spyware" had a double advantage. A: it was true and B: it sounded evil. It was a term that made people sit up and take notice.
Tell someone that they are being spied upon and they will become irate. So it became convenient to label all such software as spyware. For a while, it was even true. And it was a good way to make sure the public listened.
Then, an unfortunate thing happened. In the war of words, those of us in the antispyware community allowed ourselves to become outflanked. Software which monitors computer activity and reports on that activity to its maker is spyware. There is no getting around that. "Spyware" had become a dirty word, one to be avoided at all costs. There was no way around that either.
We had won the moral high ground decisively. They needed to find a way to push us off that particular hill.
They outflanked us when they stopped spying. It finally occurred to someone that they could install the software right into the browser, monitor keywords on search engines and on the pages being read and pop up ads based on that. There was no need to send that information back to the company. The program could do all of that by itself, no phoning home required.
The software was doing all the same things, except that there no longer was any spying. We no longer could call it spyware. They adopted the term "adware" and put on a massive public relations campaign to distinguish the two words from each other. They also found a clever way to keep us off that moral high ground.
"Spyware is bad and deserves all the bad things people have to say about it. What we distribute is 'adware', which helps publishers produce their software for free, in exchange for displaying some ads. Of course, there always will be those few people who simply hate all forms of advertising..."
That is how they outflanked us. The debate no longer was about how bad it is to spy on people without their knowledge. They cleverly twisted it into a debate about whether or not advertising was a bad thing. Nevermind that the software basically was unchanged. This wasn't about spying; it was about ads.
We put a good effort into turning "spyware" into a dirty word. They have put ten times the effort into making "adware" a good word. They want everyone to think of adware as something acceptable. They want us to believe that adware is vastly different from spyware.
It is time to stick a pin into this argument and burst a few bubbles. It is time to stop pretending that adware is any better or more benign than spyware.
What is the real difference between a program you would call spyware and another that you would call adware? The truth of the matter is that there is not a whole lot of difference.
The spyware will monitor your activity and report that information to its maker. The adware will not. Otherwise, it might as well be the same program. Same unannounced arrival. Same pop-ups. Same drain on the system resources. Same annoyances.
What causes people to complain about these programs? Are they up in arms because some company might learn that they like yellow toasters and visit certain sites over and over? In some cases, yes - that is exactly why some people are angered. But that really is not what causes the overwhelming majority of complaints.
People notice that their computer takes twice as long to start up. They notice that new, mysterious toolbars appear in their browser. They notice the ads, which pop up relentlessly the entire time the computer is turned on. They notice that their home page has changed and they are unable to change it back.
People do not remember installing the software responsible for all of this. They have lost control of their own computer and they do not understand how it happened.
Maybe they saw some sort of disclosure, maybe not. Maybe the software is monitoring their activities, maybe it isn't. Everything from spyware to adware to browser hijackers fit this description. When it happens to you, you really do not care what you are supposed to call it. You just want it to stop.
Adware often is installed by web sites that exploit browser flaws. This happens all the time. How can a company claim to be legitimate if, time after time, they make payments to people who install their software through security holes?
Rootkits often are installed to hide the adware files. This is done to prevent you from finding them. Why go to all that effort to hide legitimate software? Why would they want to hide it, unless they know that people do not want it?
Adware frequently will put several files into memory, so that if one process is terminated, another will restart it. If certain files or registry entries are deleted or changed, they will be changed right back. That makes it extremely difficult to remove these adware programs. Why do all that, if the program is legitimate?
A computer, with adware installed, becomes a pop-up factory. Window after window after window pops up. They never stop. It does no good to close them, because that simply causes more to open. So many pop-up windows will open that the computer literally runs out of memory and crashes. I have seen it happen with my own eyes. This is legitimate software?
It is time to stop pretending that adware is any less of an annoyance than spyware. It is time to stop pretending that people dislike adware merely because it is serving ads. It is time to stop pretending that adware is better than spyware. It is time to stop pretending that there is any significant difference between the two.
I have one more fact for you. 56,000 people have created more than 325,000 individual topics on the SpywareInfo message board, most of them asking for help to remove some unwanted software. Very few of the programs we have helped them to remove performed any spying. Nearly all of them easily fall under the label of "adware".
Let us stop pretending that there is a valid reason to distinguish between adware and spyware. Except for that one little detail, the two are identical. No amount of money spent in a public relations campaign will ever change that.
This article first appeared in the December 10, 2005 newsletter. Since then, the numbers I gave relating to the message board have continued to grow. As of today, 71,088 people have created 438,000 topics on that board. All but a handful of those are from people asking us for help to remove unwanted software from their computer.
http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/newlsetter/dec10,2005#adware :: Is Adware All That Bad?
Rant - Why New PCs Are So Slow
Have you purchased a new computer from any of the so-called "top tier" computer makers in the last several years? If so, then you probably were surprised to discover that, out of the box, it ran much slower than the older computer it replaced. The reason? The big PC makers install dozens upon dozens of unwanted programs on new computers.
Dell, HP, Compaq - all of the big name PC vendors are guilty of this. Their computers are loaded with trial versions of every imaginable program. These trial programs all load when the computer is started, all of them use up memory, many of them hog the processor and they all take up valuable space on the hard drive. The result is a powerful new machine that struggles like a one-legged asthmatic in the Boston Marathon (my apologies to all one-legged asthmatics who run the Boston Marathon).
To add insult to injury, these companies will not give you a proper Windows installation disc. They claim that this is to cut down on costs. And if you believe that, I have a bridge that I can let go real cheap and I can tell you EXACTLY where the WMDs are buried.
The real purpose in not including a Windows CD with their computers is to prevent you from avoiding the unwanted garbage that they preinstall. If something goes wrong and you have to reinstall Windows, they want you use their "restore" function. That way, you can see all of the advertisements for every unwanted piece of trial software all over again.
A few companies will give you the disc - for an extra charge.
Let me give you a perfect example. A few years ago, my grandmother bought a new computer. I talked her into ordering DSL service and promised to set it up for her. This machine had twice the processor as my own computer and should have been much faster. Nope.
When I punched the power button on this thing, it took an amazing ten minutes for it to boot. When Windows finally loaded, a dozen advertisements were on the screen. Every single megabyte of RAM was used up and it had started swapping to virtual memory even before the desktop appeared. I spent several hours removing literally dozens of programs. It was as bad as any spyware infection I have ever seen.
I removed the unwanted garbage, tuned it up, tweaked it to run fast, installed a free antivirus and replaced Internet Explorer with Firebird (the predecessor to Firefox). When I was finished with it, that PC was a lean, mean computing machine.
Not even a month later, something stopped working right and she used the "restore" option. All my hours of work were undone in ten minutes. Thanks for that, Compaq.
These companies have lost all respect for their customers. These are exactly the same tactics used by those who install adware and spyware. They are paid to install these programs; they receive a commission if someone buys the full version; and they make it difficult to avoid them. That the computer is trashed and leaves the customer with a terrible experience doesn't seem to be of any concern.
http://www.pcworld.ca/news/column/edeefb1f0a01040800afaa853f43cb47/pg0.htm :: Scrap unwanted programs in your new PC
Privacy In The News
Check out FlyingHamster.com for the latest news headlines relevant to spyware, privacy and safely using the computer.
There is a saying that "all politics are local". It seems that this also applies to the internet. It is a close community in that problems can spread from anywhere. If you see a local story that you think deserves attention, please let us know. Use this mail form, tell us some details and we will follow the story.
FlyingHamster is updated every day - and several times during the day and night. It is updated continually, even on the weekends. We hope it will keep you informed on a daily basis - and keep your internet time a bit safer. As soon as I can get around to it, I will add FlyingHamster's RSS feed to SpywareInfo.
FlyingHamster belongs to my partner, Catherine. It is a free service, supported in the same way as SpywareInfo, by offering high-quality software at a discount. This week, FlyingHamster has a discount on Firetrust Mailwasher. Go check it out.
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