Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Little Agreement on Spyware Guidelines

Filed under
Security

Many anti-spyware programs scour computer hard drives for those data-tracking files called cookies that we often get from Web visits. Microsoft Corp.'s tool does not. And there are disputes aplenty about whether certain widely used advertising programs circulating on the Internet are clean of spyware.

No surprise, then, that there's little agreement on what should be considered spyware, and what adware is exactly. Or on whether adware, which delivers ads, is a form of spyware or a breed apart.

Consumers are confounded. Is their computer-cleaning overzealous or not thorough enough? Are they removing useful programs with the dreck?

No less vexed are makers of anti-spyware software. They're beset by legal headaches, constantly challenged for what their products define and target as malware.

"It certainly distracts us from the job at hand," said David Moll, chief executive of Webroot Software Inc.

Help may be on the way. Led by the tech-advocacy group Center for Democracy and Technology, the anti-spyware industry is crafting definitions and plans to eventually set up dispute-resolution procedures. A draft is expected by late summer.

"A definition is the foundation," said Ari Schwartz, the center's associate director. "If a consumer's going to make a decision in the marketplace about what they have and what software they are going to use, it's helpful to have a basis to do that on."

Similar efforts, however, have failed before.

Part of the challenge stems from how the term "spyware" evolved.

"It started out as being called spyware because a lot of it was spying on people and sending personal information," said Dave Methvin, chief technology officer with tech diagnostic site PC Pitstop. "It's a catchy, quick word that is always easy for people to understand and say."

But the term stuck even as some of these programs, in response to consumer complaints, began sending back less data and became less sneaky.

In some people's minds, spyware came to include programs that change Web browser settings without asking or trick users into racking up huge phone bills by making the equivalent of "900" calls to foreign porn sites.

"`Spyware' has sort of become the euphemism for any software I don't want," said Wayne Porter, co-founder of SpywareGuide.com.

The result is chaos.

Microsoft, for instance, chose not to scan cookies because many sites need them to remember passwords and otherwise customize a surfer's experience. Cory Treffiletti of the online ad agency Carat Interactive says cookies help sites identify repeat visitors so the same ads aren't shown over and over.

But other spyware hunters flag cookies on the grounds that they help advertisers track behavior. EarthLink Inc.'s Scott Mecredy says anti-spyware programs have gotten sophisticated enough to distinguish good cookies from bad.

Then there's the question of whether "spyware" includes adware.

Claria Corp., formerly known as Gator Corp., has sued several anti-spyware companies and Web sites for calling its advertising software "spyware." PC Pitstop rewrote some of its materials as part of a settlement.

Even "adware" isn't good enough for some.

Joseph Telafici, director of operations for McAfee Inc.'s security research unit, says the company now gets one or two complaints a week, compared with two or three per quarter last year from companies whose programs it has dubbed spyware or adware.

McAfee is in the process of assigning a full-time lawyer.

Symantec Corp. sought to pre-empt a lawsuit by filing one itself, asking a federal court to declare that it had the right to call Hotbot.com Inc.'s toolbar adware. Hotbot did not respond to requests for comment.

Symantec still faces a lawsuit by Trekeight LLC, whose product Symantec brands adware.

Though it has yet to sue, 180solutions Inc. takes issue with "adware," preferring "searchware" or "sponsorware." "Adware" has become too linked with bad actors, and the industry needs more differentiation, said its chief executive, Keith Smith. Most anti-spyware vendors, however, still put 180solutions in that category.

Aluria Software LLC says one company, WhenU.com Inc., has changed its practices enough that it is now spyware- and adware-safe.

But America Online Inc., though it uses Aluria's technology, prefers a different test: What its users think.

AOL found that users overwhelmingly choose to rid their computers of WhenU's SaveNow application when anti-spyware scans uncover it, so AOL continues to list as adware.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that many legitimate programs -- including Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system and Web browser -- send out data without making the user fully aware, one of the common attributes of spyware.

And many programs that spy do have legitimate functions -- people may run a keystroke recorder to monitor spouses whom they suspect of cheating. Or they may willingly accept adware in exchange for a free game or screensaver.

Anti-spyware software companies say they leave removal decisions to customers, though many users simply follow their recommendations, failing to distinguish the mild from the malicious.

"If an anti-spyware company recommends that the software (gets) blocked, consumers will typically block it," said Keith Smith, chief executive of 180solutions. "It doesn't matter how good an experience they have with it."

Alex St. John, chief executive of WildTangent Inc., says anti-spyware companies have an incentive to overlist programs: It makes their products appear effective. Better definitions, he said, would help clear his company's game-delivery product.

"We want to do anything under our power to be clearly defined as a legitimate, upright consumer company," he said. "We would love to have something to adhere to."

Guidelines could give anti-spyware vendors a better defense.

For consumers, said Tori Case of Computer Associates International Inc., "if we start using the correct terminology, we can demystify it a bit and help people understand what the real risks are."

By ANICK JESDANUN
Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

OSS Leftovers

  • Nextcloud 12 Officially Released, Adds New Architecture for Massive Scalability
    Nextcloud informs Softpedia today about the official availability of the final release of Nextcloud 12, a major milestone of the self-hosting cloud server technology that introduces numerous new features and improvements. The biggest new feature of the Nextcloud 12 release appears to be the introduction of a new architecture for massive scalability, called Global Scale, which is a next-generation open-source technology for syncing and sharing files. Global Scale increases scalability from tens of thousands of users to hundreds of millions on a single instance, while helping universities and other institutions significantly reduce the costs of their existing large installations.
  • ReactOS 0.4.5 Open-Source Windows-Compatible OS Launches with Many Improvements
    ReactOS 0.4.5 is a maintenance update that adds numerous changes and improvements over the previous point release. The kernel has been updated in this version to improve the FreeLoader and UEFI booting, as well as the Plug and Play modules, adding support for more computers to boot ReactOS without issues.
  • Sprint Debuts Open Source NFV/SDN Platform Developed with Intel Labs
    AT&T has been the headliner in the carrier race to software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). But Sprint is putting its own stamp on the space this week with its debut of a new open source SDN/NFV mobile core solution.
  • Google’s New Home for All Things Open Source Runs Deep
    Google is not only one of the biggest contributors to the open source community but also has a strong track record of delivering open source tools and platforms that give birth to robust technology ecosystems. Just witness the momentum that Android and Kubernetes now have. Recently, Google launched a new home for its open source projects, processes, and initiatives. The site runs deep and has several avenues worth investigating. Here is a tour and some highlights worth noting.
  • Making your first open source contribution
  • Simplify expense reports with Smart Receipts
    The app is called Smart Receipts, it's licensed AGPL 3.0, and the source code is available on GitHub for Android and iOS.
  • How the TensorFlow team handles open source support
    Open-sourcing is more than throwing code over the wall and hoping somebody uses it. I knew this in theory, but being part of the TensorFlow team at Google has opened my eyes to how many different elements you need to build a community around a piece of software.
  • IRC for the 21st Century: Introducing Riot
    Internet relay chat (IRC) is one of the oldest chat protocols around and still popular in many open source communities. IRC's best strengths are as a decentralized and open communication method, making it easy for anyone to participate by running a network of their own. There are also a variety of clients and bots available for IRC.

Tizen News: Phones and TVs

  • Tizen 3.0-powered Samsung Z4 now available with offline retailers in india
    The Samsung Z4, the fourth smartphone in Samsung’s Z series and a successor to the Z2 (and not the Z3, as many would assume), has been formally announced and made an appearance at the Tizen Developer Conference (TDC 2017) this past week. The Z4 was rumoured to make its way to India on May 19th (Friday) and it did – arriving with offline retailers after launching in the country last Monday (one week ago).
  • Samsung 2017 QLED TVs World First to support autocalibration for HDR
  • Samsung approves You.i TV video platform for Tizen TV app development
    While Samsung has developed Tizen TV apps using JavaScript, You.i TV’s Engine Video app runs on Native Client (NACL), a web technology that does not only allows C++ applications to run in a standard browser but is said to be 24 times faster than JavaScript. Now that Samsung has approved You.i TV’s video engine platform, developers can craft more video content for Tizen Smart TV owners.
  • Samsung Smart TV gets a new Glympse app that enables location sharing on the TV
    Samsung Smart TV, powered by the intuitive, self-developed Tizen operating system, has gotten a cool new app which enables consumers to view the location of their friends, loved ones or even a pizza delivery or cable technician in real-time directly from their home’s largest screen. The new app is developed by Glympse, the leading real-time location services platform.

How To Encrypt DNS Traffic In Linux Using DNSCrypt

​Dnscrypt is a protocol that is used to improve DNS security by authenticating communications between a DNS client and a DNS resolver. DNSCrypt prevents DNS spoofing. It uses cryptographic signatures to verify that responses originate from the chosen DNS resolver and haven’t been tampered with. DNSCrypt is available for multi-platforms including Windows, MacOS, Unix, Android, iOS, Linux and even routers. Read
more

Debian-Based Untangle 13.0 Linux Firewall Tackles Bufferbloat, Adds New Features

Untangle NG Firewall, the open-source and powerful Debian-based network security platform featuring pluggable modules for network apps, has been updated to version 13.0, a major release adding new features and numerous improvements. The biggest improvement brought by the Untangle NG Firewall 13.0 release is to the poor latency generated by excess buffering in networking equipment, called bufferbloat, by supporting a queueing algorithm designed to optimize QoS and bandwidth to enforce a controlled delay. Read more