Friday, March 16, 2001

George Mindling Column 3-16-2001


Now the Scary Part


Perhaps the most famous legend in IBM was about a programmer at the White Plains headquarters who supposedly included a subroutine in the master payroll program that searched for his employee number.  If the subroutine found his ID number active, everything proceeded normally. If, because of termination or layoff, his employee number failed to appear, the main program was then instructed to erase all payroll files, including all back-ups!

While that may have been one of the great corporate legends, we are now at that level with your PC! Welcome to the world of spyware!

No, a spyware program isn't going to erase your paycheck, but it will check to see if you try to remove the spyware program from your computer. If you remove the spy ware, It may shut down the real program it came with. Even worse, it may shut down your Windows operating system altogether.

Steve Gibson, of Gibson Research, first defined the term "spyware" last year in an article that declared war on the unwanted programs. According to Gibson, "Spy ware is any software which employs a user's Internet connection in the background (the so-called 'back channel') without their knowledge or explicit permission,"

Some of the spyware programs are based on advertising systems, such as GoZilla, which will not run without the advertising system installed. According to Lavasoft, specialists at removing spyware (http://www.lavasoft.de), some Web3000 installations actually replace the Wsock32.dll without the user's permission. If you “kill” the spyware, your system will not function properly because the corrupted dll (dynamic link library) file is also removed. Most of these programs can be removed safely, but not all.

In my case, I had to do a full re-install of Windows 98. The software company that included the data collection program on my PC has declared it IS not "spyware,” as I agreed to its conditions in the End User License Agreement I accepted when I installed the base program. I can not use its name in connection with the term "spyware" as it claims I had full knowledge of the data collection program.

Just read your EULAs carefully! Check the Web site at Lavasoft for spyware removal details, and the free program, Ad-Aware, to detect the spyware in the first place. Also check out TechSanity at www.techsanityiz.com for an in-depth look at spyware detection and elimination programs.

Gibson also has a "leak test" at his site at: http://www.grc.com. According to Richard Schneider, a reader who was familiar with Gibson's work, Gibson is in the process of rewriting his "opt-out" spyware detection program, and currently recommends using Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. Several peripheral suppliers have been caught adding spyware to their support programs. Check carefully when installing that new CD burner or that new hard drive. The information they send to the Internet when you log on may be more than you care to share. What information is collected and sent depends on the program, but you can be sure if they wanted you to know, they'd tell you .

George Mindling © 2001

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