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An Article on Spyware

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  • Gordon Lane
    Rather long but interesting reading Regards Gordon Lane Chairman Alberta Family Histories Society 712-16th Ave NW, Calgary, AB, T2W 0J8 chairman@afhs.ab.ca
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 4, 2004
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      Rather long but interesting reading

      Regards

      Gordon Lane
      Chairman
      Alberta Family Histories Society
      712-16th Ave NW,
      Calgary, AB, T2W 0J8

      chairman@...
      www.afhs.ab.ca
      (403)214-1447


      > Sneaky software aims for profits by bumping Google's query results with
      > disguised ads.
      > For Google users like Tim Yu, the threat of spyware isn't so easy to stare
      > down.
      >
      > Yu, a Stanford University student, recently found that one of his family's
      > computers was infected with a program called "BrowserAid/Featured
      > Results," which was delivering additional and unwanted pop-up ads atop
      > Google results.
      > He managed to rid the computer of that application, but a similar,
      > unidentifiable program could not be eliminated.
      >
      > "I removed it from the registry, but this one heals itself," Yu said.
      > Spyware makers, he said, are getting more sophisticated.
      >
      > And that's a problem for Google, as new strains of spyware attempt to
      > profit
      > from the highly popular search engine and its lucrative pay-per-click
      > advertising program by altering search results pages or delivering pop-up
      > windows with their own lists of text ads.
      >
      > Spyware is a catchall term for software that installs itself on a PC
      > without
      > consumers' knowledge and that tracks computer usage, sometimes with
      > criminal
      > intent. A related breed of software, adware, is designed for less
      > invasive,
      > but more annoying, delivery of advertisements.
      >
      >
      > An entire industry of spyware and adware has sprouted up to take advantage
      > of search engine ads, which are the most lucrative and fast-growing sector
      > of online advertising. Sales from search advertising are expected to reach
      > about $3.2 billion this year, up from $2.5 billion last year and just less
      > than $1 billion in 2002, according to research firm eMarketer. Google
      > alone
      > is expected to rake in more than $1 billion from advertising this year.
      >
      > The problem shows no signs of abating. A recent survey reported that
      > nearly
      > one out of every three computers scanned for Trojan horse programs or
      > monitoring software like spyware was infected, according to security
      > software maker Webroot Software. For some in the U.S. Congress, the threat
      > is serious enough to warrant legislation designed to protect consumers.
      >
      > Google in particular has drawn the attention of interlopers. Researchers
      > for
      > Lavasoft, which sells the popular spyware detection software Ad-aware,
      > have
      > identified one application that targets Google by altering the display of
      > search results. The spyware, known as "Gloggle.Shing," carries a high
      > threat
      > level, according to Lavasoft, because the software installs itself in
      > stealth mode when people visit certain Web sites, which the company did
      > not
      > name.
      >
      > PestPatrol, another spyware fighter, has named "BrowserAid," along with
      > many
      > of its variants, as an application that affects search results. According
      > to
      > PestPatrol, the software installs itself via downloads from partner sites
      > and delivers pop-up windows displaying ad links when a person searches at
      > Google.
      >
      > A hard look from LookSmart
      > And at least one publicly traded Internet company is trying to distance
      > itself from yet another spyware maker preying on Google and other major
      > search providers.
      >
      > LookSmart, an online search and directory service, said it recently
      > investigated its business partners in an attempt to discover which company
      > had disseminated its text ads over those of Google. The partner had
      > apparently linked it to a Web site called Clickthrutracking.com without
      > permission, allowing that site to display LookSmart text ads over the
      > sponsored results of Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, as well as those of
      > Google.
      >
      > The San Francisco-based company sent a letter in June to all of its
      > partners, aiming to bar them from working with Clickthrutracking.com. The
      > company would not disclose the name of the offending business partner,
      > which
      > apparently owns the domain Clicktrutracking.com. According to Whois domain
      > name records, the company is called Search Request and is based in
      > Phoenix.
      > Calls to business license authorities in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz., do
      > not reflect a company of that name or address operating in the state. The
      > company's Web site is intermittently out of service.
      >
      > "We have a blacklist of sites that (our partners) won't allow traffic
      > from,
      > and that list includes Clickthrutracking.com," LookSmart spokesman Dakota
      > Sullivan said. "They will screen that traffic out, and if it slips
      > through,
      > we won't pay for the traffic."
      >
      > LookSmart's temporary link to this distribution partner highlights the
      > reach
      > of spyware across the Internet industry. Untangling from spyware is
      > becoming
      > as hard for Internet businesses as it is for unsuspecting Web surfers.
      >
      > The ranks of spyware and adware makers are on the rise, because the
      > technology makes it relatively easy for someone to make money. Google,
      > Yahoo
      > and others collect fees from marketers each time people click on sponsored
      > text ads. Marketers buy into the programs and bid for keywords in hope of
      > reaching people who are searching for a particular product or service.
      >
      > Major search engines and second-tier search providers distribute those
      > text
      > ads to third-party publishers and split the fees with them when people
      > click. So if a spyware maker can arrange to place text ads over popular
      > search engines, it is set to cash in.
      >
      > "You would not believe the size and scope of the gray market in this
      > arena,"
      > said Elliot Noss, president of Tucows, a downloads site. "It runs the
      > gamut
      > from light gray to dark gray."
      >
      > The complexity of the ad distribution partnerships is illustrated in
      > Yahoo's
      > recent move to provide Web surfers with a tool to block spyware and
      > viruses
      > on the browser.
      >
      > Yet the toolbar application does not block advertising software like that
      > from controversial company Claria, formerly known as Gator and one of the
      > largest providers of adware. Through its own tool called Search Scout,
      > Claria delivers text ads from Yahoo's Overture Services in a pop-up window
      > when people search on Google. As much as 30 percent of Claria's revenue is
      > derived from Overture.
      >
      > In another example of the cottage industry, Internet service provider
      > 550Access.com introduced a toolbar in March that blocks certain ads from
      > search results and replaces them with others.
      >
      > Google's role
      > Google also distributes its text ads to questionable areas of the Web
      > through Applied Semantics, a company it bought last year. When Web site
      > visitors type in a misspelled domain name, they might find a page of
      > related
      > sponsored ads from Google.
      >
      > Google limited its comments for this story, citing its upcoming $2.7
      > billion
      > initial public offering. But the company pointed to recent guidelines it
      > published on its Web site regarding downloadable PC software and best
      > practices for the industry to notify consumers of their tactics and give
      > them a way to opt out.
      >
      > Google has a stake in the business as a destination site that can be
      > affected by third parties out to profit from control of the browser. It's
      > also an application provider that could be affected by legislation meant
      > to
      > ban types of spyware or adware. It develops the Google Toolbar and
      > Deskbar,
      > which help people access search results from a central point on the
      > browser
      > and desktop, respectively. The applications also "phone home" usage data
      > to
      > the company's server if consumers agree to let Google monitor their habits
      > for the sake of improving the service.
      >
      > Utah and Massachusetts have already enacted laws to restrict types of
      > downloadable software from tracking users and delivering ads. But adware
      > maker WhenU recently contested the Utah law and won a temporary reprieve.
      >
      > "Google's goal is to provide users with the best search experience,"
      > according to a statement on the company's Web site. "We have recently
      > published a set of software principles designed to foster discussion about
      > defining and fighting spyware, and ultimately to contribute to a better
      > user
      > experience online."
      >
      > Yet Google's IPO prospectus acknowledges--if briefly--the threat facing
      > the
      > company: "New technologies could block our ads, which would harm our
      > business."
      >
      > Technology experts urge consumers to scan their machines with security or
      > anti-spyware software regularly. Programs they suggest include PestPatrol,
      > Ad-aware, and Spybot Search & Destroy.
      >
      > "Consumers should be aware of the applications and files residing and
      > running on their machines," said Matt Cobb, vice president of core
      > applications at Internet service provider EarthLink.
      >
      > Danny Sullivan, editor of industry newsletter Search Engine Watch, said
      > he's
      > had several reports of adware that obstructed Google results over the last
      > six to eight months, and he suspects that there are several different
      > strains.
      >
      > "The bigger issue is that for advertisers, your paid listings can be
      > distributed in all sorts of ways you don't know about," Sullivan said,
      > "and
      > you may not have a way to discover where they're going."
      >
      >
      > Page: 1
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      > Gordon Lane, LCGI
      > Service Center Analyst
      > EDS at Petro-Canada
      >
      > phone: 403-296-4186
      > fax: 403-296-3619
      > Email:
      > gordon.lane@...
      > glane@...


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