Skip to comments.PC Spies at the Gate
Posted on 01/07/2003 1:35:08 PM PST by weegee
Last spring, the public got a firsthand look at spyware's pervasiveness when it was discovered that peer-to-peer file-swapping app Kazaa was bundling a program designed to form a giant distributed network -- composed of Kazaa users' computers -- that could transmit information back to Brilliant Digital Entertainment, the company that created it. In effect, this network would use people's computers to perform work for Brilliant Digital.
The program had been distributed with Kazaa since the fall of 2001, according to a document that Brilliant filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in April.
Even though Brilliant said it would not "flip the switch" to turn on the distributed network without gaining user permission, Internet privacy advocates were outraged. Because Brilliant had installed its software on users' computers in a seemingly underhanded way -- notification of the program's inclusion was buried in Kazaa's user licensing agreement -- Kazaa assumed a permanent spot on routinely posted lists of spyware applications.
But many users seem blissfully unaware of spyware's reach. Kazaa Media Player was the number one PC download last week at Download.com and has topped the charts for the last 33 weeks. This week alone, the program exceeded 2.8 million downloads.
Can PC spies be stopped?
Without a doubt, use of software that monitors Internet activity without a user's knowledge is on the rise, according to Yankee Group security analyst Eric Ogren. Besides spyware embedded in downloadable apps, the number of active Web pages, which can transmit information about users to companies running ads on a page, also has increased, Ogren told NewsFactor.
Spyware monitoring groups, such as SpywareInfo, Counterexploitation and Spy Check, condemn the practice. Specifically, they name Adware, Alexa, Aureate, Cydoor, DSSAgent, EverAd, OnFlow, Gator and Webhancer as the guilty parties.
The most pervasive use of spyware appears to be in P2P file-sharing apps, particularly -- and now unsurprisingly -- Kazaa.
"In Kazaa there is at least one program, Cydoor, that you cannot opt out of, and if you remove that, Kazaa stops working until you reinstall it," Mike Healan, operator of the SpywareInfo Web site, told NewsFactor.
The watchdog groups also list file-sharing programs Bearshare, Imesh and Limewire as purveyors of spying technology.
So far, complaints about spyware do not seem to have affected Kazaa's popularity to a significant degree. But for the privacy-conscious, a program called Kazaa Lite provides most of the functionality of Kazaa, including access to the Kazaa file-sharing network -- without the spyware.
And consumers are not completely unconcerned about privacy. As the number of spyware-laden programs has increased, spyware blockers also have become surefire hits. ZoneLabs' ZoneAlarm is a free, consumer-level personal firewall that, among other things, notifies a user when a program is trying to send data over the Internet, then asks for the user's permission, according to ZoneLabs spokesperson Te Smith.
Smith told NewsFactor that the Kazaa-Brilliant Digital incident remains "the poster child for spyware. People still are downloading it. It speaks to the need to educate users. You have to be aware of what you're doing."
Smith said ZoneLabs has more than 20 million users of its free and paid security software.
Another popular spyware blocker is Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, which scans a system for ad-supported software components and removes them. The company offers a free version, plus enhanced tools for a price. The software logged 170,000 downloads at Download.com last week.
Companies that distribute advertising-support software, or adware, claim that because they garner customers' permission to handle their personal data , their software cannot be classed as malicious spyware.
SpywareInfo's Healen acknowledged that users can opt out of some adware. However, he added, "A lot of it could be considered spyware because it logs things like browsing history [and] computing habits and sends it back to the vendor."
Even when usage and license agreements are presented, Healen said, they are often so full of legalese that it is difficult to discern how a company will use a person's information.
Although users are concerned about how their private information is handled -- a recent Media Metrix survey found that nearly 70 percent of U.S. consumers are concerned about their privacy online -- the same survey found that just 40 percent of users read privacy statements. In addition, just 30 percent of respondents said they find Web site privacy statements easy to understand.
Clearly, anti-spyware companies -- and users -- have their work cut out for them.
It helps keep my performance speed up and surfing untracked.
The problem is that the entertainment cartel has been using their considerable political clout to abuse their customers and their customers no longer see the point in continuing to give them money when the result will be more abuse.
The US Constitution stipulates that, in order to facilitate the spread of ideas and arts, creators of intellectual property are given a limited monopoly to receive restitution for their creation.
The problem is that one word...limited. That's kind of vague. And when Disney, the MPAA and the RIAA can buy Senators and Congressmen to keep extending their government provided monopoly so that the "limited" idea of the constitution is essentially meaningless, many feel that the rights of these companies to continue to milk their customers over and over again for the same product are no longer valid.
If an author writes a book, his intellectual property is safe as long as he never publishes it. And a songwriter need not worry about his IP being stolen if he never sings the song in public. But that would rather restrict the spread of ideas and entertainment. Thus the government provided copyright monopoly.
If publishers and record companies are having trouble making money with their same tired old sales techniques, I feel for them. But the problem is less with the people that are beginning to ignore their bleating than it is with the idiots that feel that they have a right to continue making money doing the same old thing. I'm sure buggy whip makers were irritated when the automobile started selling, but they didn't have a staff of lawyers or the wherewithal to buy the senator from South Carolina. If they had, you'd probably have paid for a brand new buggy whip along with the undercoating and shipping fee on your new Ford, Chevy or Toyota.
Times change. The publishers and producers need to change their sales techniques to keep up instead of whining and litigating. To put this into perspective, consider this:
The companies that make up the MPAA and RIAA made more money in profits than the US spent on the FBI and CIA combined last year. Why do they need the taxpayers of the US to continue to support courts and police to prosecute people that violate their copyright? Why not invest some of those profits in developing a better way of distributing their products that is less likely to be subject to violations? Shouldn't their shareholders demand that they do so? Isn't that the smart long-term solution?
Isn't streching the Constitution all out of shape in order to benefit a few people one of the things that a good conservative is supposed to oppose?
I guess it's easier to keep buying political clout and file lawsuits than it is to fix their business model. Ok, let 'em go for it. But don't expect very many people to feel sorry for them when they fail.
If spyware and unauthorized software activity were problems associated only with pirating music, I'd not feel to upset about it. But, this is not the case. Even "legit" software from "legit" companies such as McAfee, Intuit, and others has a problem staying off of the internet. I pitched McAfee Antivirus and firewall due to its insistance on accessing the net every time I got connected (and this even with the automatic update feature turned OFF). Likewise, Intuit's Quicken was full of "features" that wanted to access the net without my permission. And who can forget the C_Dilla fiasco with TurboTax last year. I have caught other programs as well, using firewall software.
And we can't forget the neat little cookies that all kinds of web sites attach to our computers to track our usage. Or the more sophisticated spyware that gets installed with some "free" search console or other neat little applet that we might find on the web. Or the popup ads that annoy some of us.
I've made my computer almost bulletproof to all of these annoyances, but I'm sure that new ones will take the place of the ones rendered ineffective.