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December 31, 2002

A Little Wine, A Little Santana, A Little Spyware. How Romantic.....

Last week I warned about a Digital Rights Management spyware program being installed by game demos and financial software. This week I want to warn you about another sort of spyware called Bandlink that is being installed by music CDs which is programmed to track your listening habits and report back to the record company.

The Toronto Star reports that "the Bandlink software only works when the CD is played on an Internet-enabled computer. When the same CD is played on a standard stereo system, no tracking occurs. But each time a user listens to a track from the CD with Bandlink on a computer connected to the Internet, a message is sent from the listener's computer to another machine indicating the song being played.

"Record companies can use that information to determine which songs are played most, the number of listeners and peak usage times."

The music industry is putting on a massive effort to entice people into buying CDs rather than simply downloading MP3s off the internet. As part of this campaign, CDs sometimes include additional computer files related to the band, such as tour information, band interviews, videos of live gigs and photographs. You really have to question why they would then foul the extra features by requiring that the person install spyware to access them. You see, you can opt out of installing this software, but if you do, the extra features that may have led you to buy it won't work. Pretty dumb move in my opinion.

Read the rest of the story

That brings me to this week's poll. Would you buy a CD if it had extra features such as tour information, band interviews, videos of live gigs and photographs? Would you still buy it if it meant you had to install this spyware?

Click here to take the poll (Registration required)

Last week's poll results:

If you have ever had Gator, did you intentionally install it?

Yes (14%)
No (85%)

Is it getting hot in here?

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Last week I sent out a warning to people about the dangers of using Lavasoft's Ad-aware in its current, unupdated state and recommended that people uninstall it. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about doing it. Lavasoft still has a lot of leftover goodwill from when it was a good (and the only) product for removing spyware. I remember in April 2002 when we discovered that Radlight Media Player had a secret removal routine in its installer that would remove Ad-aware. What happened to Radlight after that was not pretty.

I was braced for the same sort of flame war that knocked Radlight right off of CNet and Simtel (briefly) when I sent out the last newsletter. Guess what. It didn't happen. There was some criticism, but mainly it was from those who are not well informed about the privacy and tech world. The thread at fark.com (Warning, language) that eventually degenerated into a religious debate (???) gave me a really good laugh.

One thing which led to a lot of confusion was that I said there was no statement from Lavasoft on AAW 6 or the fact that AAW 5.83 was badly out of date. People who then went to Lavasoft's support forums found a statement on just that subject. Without completely reading my newsletter and simply assuming that I had slammed Lavasoft without doing any research, some people started flaming me on a few message boards and a few people sent emails about it.

It was amusing to see how many people accused me of doing no research when they themselves didn't research it even as far as looking at the date and time of the "statement" by Lavasoft. The time stamp on Lavasoft's statement is several hours after the newsletter was released. That "statement" was actually a "response" to this newsletter. If I hadn't made my statement, Lavasoft wouldn't have made their response and everyone would still be in the dark about the status of AAW 6.

Then there were a few people who selectively quoted and misquoted what I said to suit their own responses to it on various message boards. In fact, a statement by someone at a site called neowin bordered on being libelous. Here is a selective quote of my own from that site. "Needless to say some of our affiliates and sources didn't bother to research this in the same manner I do (and expect all Neowin news staff to) so they posted the mis-information that has been doing the rounds for 2 days now."

Apparently this extensive research does not include something as simple as comparing the time difference between one statement and another. Nice research. Is that what they teach at journalism school now? Or more likely this person never attended one. It is one thing to not know what you are talking about. It's quite another to not know what you are talking about while scolding the more knowledgeable for not knowing what they are talking about.

It is really sad to see a so-called news site doing such a disservice to its readers in this irresponsible manner. I think the web site speaks for itself very well with its title bar message, "Neowin.net - Where unprofessional journalism looks better". Thankfully there are plenty of real news sites around who do actually try to learn about a situation before writing about it.

Then, of course, there was this idiot (Warning, language).

The majority of the feedback has been supportive however. True tech and privacy sites who know the details about the problems I highlighted are in agreement about the dangers of Ad-aware in its current state. Lockergnome, for instance, has discussed my warnings in at least two of its own newsletters.

In their response, Lavasoft announces that AAW 6 Plus should be ready in January, while the free version won't be ready until February. Why the month-long delay between versions? A week or two to allow all the Plus users a chance to download the new version I can understand, but a whole month? Lavasoft also finally admits that the current version cannot handle the newer spyware/hijackware targets. Until these new versions are released, users of Ad-aware are just out of luck.

"The 5x engine is old and to keep ahead of our target base needs to be replaced. Are we saying it is bad or ineffective? No. But to effectively and safely remove many new targets and those older ones, which have changed/mutated, we would need to do a major upgrade of 5.83 and it's reference file as well."

"The 5x engine (in its current configuration) cannot handle many of the new targets correctly. As stated in #1, the entire Ad-aware executable would need to be rewritten."

I will say it again. Uninstall Ad-aware. Version 5.83 has been abandoned. No more updates will ever be made for it. Even if it wasn't three months out of date, there is nothing it could do that Spybot S&D cannot do better and there's plenty that Spybot can do which Ad-aware cannot.

Supposedly version 6 will be strong competition for Spybot and supposedly it will be kept up-to-date. I hope it is, but in the meantime, the current Ad-aware is too dangerous for anyone to consider using it for removing anything other than cookies. Those at least have not been changed enough in the preceding three months to be dangerous to remove.

I'm sure many of you are wondering why I am doing this? At one time, I was an administrator at Lavasoft's support forums. SpywareInfo was an unofficial mirror for the program and a semi-official mirror for the reference file. I have always been a big supporter of Ad-aware. There were some discussions at one time about making this very newsletter the official Lavasoft newsletter and I even wrote an article for them about email spoofing. So why on earth am I telling everyone that it is dangerous and should be uninstalled?

I am sending out this warning for the newcomers to spyware and security. This warning is for those who have just discovered that something they installed might be logging their computer activity and sending it off to advertising companies. This warning is for those who have had their browsers hijacked to pornographic web sites. Those people will be experiencing this for the first time, and they will be looking around for a way to kill it.

For two years, the default answer for spyware problems has been Ad-aware. A newcomer to this spyware/privacy world will hear about Ad-aware from thousands of web sites and news articles and go install it to deal with their uninvited software. Depending on just what is installed, these newcomers to spyware may be using a program that can do more harm to their machine than anything it removes. Spyware is a privacy problem, but it usually won't ruin your machine (not these days anyway).

In the three months since Lavasoft last updated Ad-aware 5.83, dozens of its targets have released updated versions. Removing two of them in particular (Xupiter and CommonName Toolbar) using Ad-aware 5.83 can cause damage to your computer. In Xupiter's case, it is simply a broken search function and is easily fixable. In the case of CommonName, it can leave you without an internet connection because Ad-aware has not been updated to properly restore the winsock settings that have been changed.

I have seen people having to go to friends' house's to use their computer to beg for help on message boards, or to send frantic emails to me, because Ad-aware's outdated CommonName removal routines damaged their winsock settings. I have had enough of it.

It was a foolish and ill-considered decision to abandon the current version several months before the new version was to be released. People who know and understand the privacy/spyware/security world have been warning people for many weeks to stop using Ad-aware until the new version comes out. I am not the only person who has been saying it. I am, however, the one with the loudest voice, and I'm glad that people are finally hearing the warnings. If certain of the more ignorant citizens of the internet want to flame me rather than looking into what I am saying, so be it.

In the meantime, my suggestion is to go download and install Spybot S&D. A new version (1.1 rel 4) was just released Sunday night, and it boasts some really sweet extras in its tools menu.


EDIT: Jan 2, 2003

It seems there are some rumors going around that Lavasoft is planning to charge for upgrades from 5.83 plus to 6 plus. This is not true. Owners of Ad-aware Plus 5.x will still be provided with a free upgrade to the 6.x version when/if it is released.

Lavasoft Announcement:

Apparently rumours are making its way through the internet, that Lavasoft is planning to charge existing customers for the upgrade to Ad-aware Plus 6.

This is however only a rumour and not true.

All existing Ad-aware Plus customers will be provided with an FREE upgrade to Ad-aware Plus 6.

SpywareInfo Weekly Feature

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As a service to our readers, SpywareInfo is offering a weekly special on software that we believe will benefit any computer user. It is our intent to obtain the very best possible price for our readers. As such, you will find that software will be offered at a reduced price, for a one week period. Our marketing division strives to negotiate and to obtain this discount for a week. Our large readership support enables us to approach program developers for such a reduction in price. Not only will you be receiving the finest software at a discounted price, your purchase through this site will be financial support for our editor and staff. SpyWareInfo will only offer the finest products, products that we would not hesitate to use on our own computers.

SpywareInfo is actively searching out companies interested in working with us to present quality software to our readers at a significant discount for this one week period. If your company is interested in participating in this feature, or if you are one of our readers and would like to see a particular product highlighted here, then please contact our Director of Marketing, Ms Catherine Forsythe. We will review the product and approach the developer if the program meets our stringent standards. We thank you for your support. If a software program interests you, please tell your friends and send them here. You will be doing a multiple good deed.

Program: Pop-Up Stopper Companion
Author: Panicware
Platform: Internet Explorer 5.x - 6.x and Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT, 2000 and XP
License: $39.95 [Subtract 35% off of all Panicware software for SpywareInfo visitors until January 7]

Panicware's top of the line product features our most advanced ad blocking, cleaning and surfing enhancement technology. Say goodbye to those pesky X10 and Casino ads! Protect your family and your privacy by stopping Internet tracking.

Pop-Up Stopper Companion is the first pop-up ad blocking product to be available in retail stores - ever!

All Panicware software is available to SpywareInfo visitors for 35% off the regular price! To receive this deal, you must enter the following coupon code on the Confirmation page of the order process. SPYWARE

You must enter this code, or you will not receive the 35% discount. This offer ends January 7, 2003.

This is an EXCEPTIONAL value brought to you by Panicware's co-operative efforts with SpywareInfo.

Read on for more information

Now This Is Scary

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PCWorld - Yes, You Are Being Watched

If you're feeling fenced in some day, you may decide to take a trip to your favorite gambling mecca, where anything goes.

Before you leave, you may want to tell your friends, and while you're at it, let them know what you've been doing lately. Depending on where you are, and whether what you do sounds suspicious, the government may read that e-mail.

If you go to the town square to wave down a taxi to the airport, you may also be waving to a camera housed in what looks like a street lamp. If you look like a wanted criminal, you may draw the attention of a security guard watching a monitor, or the guard across the street.

You can bypass all that by driving to the airport. But if you keep your mobile phone on, the carrier will always know where you are by triangulation using the phone's signal.

At the airport, you may have your face scanned again. This may actually speed your rush to freedom, because if you're a frequent flyer who's volunteered to be prescreened, you'll probably face less scrutiny before you get on the plane.

Finally, you'll reach the gambling mecca. The management there likes people-watching, too. If you've been there before and they suspected you were cheating, your face may set off an alarm. Or if you're just a high-roller who volunteered to be identified automatically, they'll welcome you by name. Then you'll be free.

If it feels like Big Brother is watching you, it may really be your boss, or a big bank ... or your own big brother.

Read the rest...

On The Lighter Side...

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The FBI has a new way of tracking terrorists.

They are now able to see every click you make on the internet. Privacy advocates say this is bad, but the FBI says you will never even notice, and it won't affect the common man at all.

Happy Surfing! (Note: Turn on javascripting if it is off)

A big thanks to 2nd LT Sherry Hardy, Company B, 3rd MI Battallion serving in South Korea for finding this.

<Rant>

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I had two big surprises for Christmas. First, my grandmother went nuts with the checkbook and bought me a Sony DVD player and probably $120 worth of collector's edition DVDs. I have Spiderman collector's edition, LOTR Fellowship of The Ring collector's edition, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Realm of Fire. Not to mention Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6 on vhs (she couldn't find them on DVD).

The second surprise came when I got all this stuff home. I go to hook the player up to the TV, but the TV only has an old 75ohm coax cable plug, while the dvd player has rca cables. No problem I thought. I just plugged the cables into the VCR and the VCR was already hooked to the TV.

Guess what. Macrovision copy protection kicks in and destroys the picture quality. It cycled from light to dark and I couldn't see a damned thing. So, 300 or so dollars worth of electronics here, all legally aquired, rendered useless by a copy protection "feature" targeted at pirates. Of course we all know that anyone who would use a hacker tool like a VCR is nothing but a pirate.

The only way around this was to buy .... BUY!! PURCHASE!!!.. an RF modulator and a cable to go with it. $30 dollars. On top of $300 +/-. Because I can't use a VCR to route legally aquired DVDs to my TV.

Real nice.

Macrovision has caused me monetary harm, and I mean to be reimbursed for that $30 one way or another. Surely I am not the only person who has had this Macrovision technology damage their DVD output. As popular as DVDs are, surely there are countless thousands of people who have also run into this problem. If any of you attorneys out there are feeling frisky enough to consider a class-action lawsuit against Macrovision, count me in. Similar lawsuits are going on now against record labels for putting copy protection technology on store-bought CDs, so it's not like this is without precedent.

You know, I used to be very strongly against piracy in general and peer-to-peer filesharing in particular. I considered it to be wholesale theft and I actually applauded when Napster was shut down the first time. After all of the laws purchased by Hollywood in Washington D.C. in direct defiance of the United States constitution and supreme court rulings, I no longer support any single effort by Hollywood to curb so-called "piracy".

These people try to make it appear as if they are working on behalf of the poor, hard-working artists. They keep saying over and over that you are taking money out of the pockets of your favorite bands. This is a lie! The artists, except for a few very well-off individuals/bands, don't make a thing from record sales. Not one dime. Their money is made from concert sales and merchandising.

I recently read Janet Ian's article on peer-to-peer file sharing and Hollywood's efforts to stop it, and I have to say it was real eye-opener. I strongly recommend that all of you give it a read.

</Rant>

Help keep SpywareInfo going! The SWI web site received roughly 150,000 visitors in December, and that many visitors uses up a lot of bandwidth. If you'd like to make a contribution to keep the bills paid, we have a PayPal account set up for just that purpose. http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/support.php

I noticed yesterday that I had screwed up the Moveable Type template used for the News Headlines page. It looked fine in Mozilla (my default browser), but I happened to load it yesterday in Internet Explorer and damn what a mess! I wish someone had emailed me about that. Anyway, it's fixed now.

I mentioned a while back that I had started using the parasite detection script put together by Andrew Clover. The scanner page that I put up has gotten an impressive number of visitors. Apparently a lot of tech support people are referring people to it as an alternative to having them install software when they are trying to determine if maybe they have some sort of spyware.

Soon I hope to have an additional online scanner available for use by SpywareInfo visitors. It will be an activex control developed by X-Block and run from a page on this site. We will be working out the details over the next week or so.

Happy New Years everyone. Drive safe. If you've had too much, please don't drive. A cab is a lot cheaper than a coffin.

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