Botnets, Now What?

Just when I was becoming accustomed to using spyware removal tools and running the occasional Pitstop virus scan (few people keep their antivirus current these days), something new comes along.

Have you ever wondered why your machine seems like it’s operating in mud or is just ignoring you? Well that’s probably because it’s operating just fine for someone else. Yep, we’re talking Botnets. Botnets are using your CPU, draining your memory, just waiting to be told what to do by someone making money from your investment. You don’t mind do you?

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PC Pitstop Top 25 Spyware and Adware

PC Pitstop has long been a source of information about unwanted software and how it spreads. Now we’re using our test results database to give you weekly updates about which programs are the most prolific. The prevalence numbers indicate the percent of PCs tested at PC Pitstop where we detected that file running. Our detection works by file name, so some products may be listed multiple times if they consist of two or more files. To check for spyware, adware, unneeded programs, and many other common PC problems, try PC Pitstop Exterminate or our full system scan.

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Evolution of Malware

It was a cold day in South Dakota (circa 1990) as I entered the Gateway building. Unlike most days, the hustle and bustle of a rapidly growing computer company were missing, replaced by an eerie still and quietness. The security guard shook his head, and said, “The software download server got hit with a virus.” All of production was shut down.

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P2P Programs: Popular and Perilous

It’s time for a confession. Many of us have peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software on our home PCs. Teenagers most often use P2P to search for and download the latest songs from their favorite artists and adults can find the songs of their youth. PC Pitstop research has shown that many of us have P2P programs such as Kazaa, Grokster, and Morpheus.

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Spyware Information Center

Since PC Pitstop opened in March 2000, we’ve tested and optimized more than a million computers. During that time, spyware has become a growing problem that threatens the stability and performance of your PC.
Our statistics indicate that more than 20% of PC’s have some sort of spyware active in memory, stealing CPU cycles, using up system resources, delivering unwanted advertising, and often creating system instability. Worse yet, spyware can threaten your privacy.

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Dirty Spyware Tricks

If you had a complete knowledge of what most spyware was doing to your system, you would never agree to install it. So how does it end up installed on so many PCs? Here are some of the dirty tricks that spyware uses to worm its way onto your system and stay there. (Not all spyware uses every technique.)

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Gator Information Center

The Gator Corporation makes several free applications that are distributed over the Internet. (On October 30, 2003, the company changed its name to Claria Corporation, but continues to operate in the same way it did before the name change.) Gator/Claria products are often delivered to end-users by being bundled with other applications or through “drive-by downloads” that pop up an ActiveX dialog and start the installation process if you say “Yes”.

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Direct Revenue: Greed Triumphs Over Decency

The recent lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General against Direct Revenue provides an incredible amount of information about the sleazy activities of spyware and adware companies. In the past, we’ve pointed out that these companies were making lots of money from their invasive installations. We saw a glimpse of how much money was at stake when Claria filed to go public in 2004. In that filing, they revealed that they made about $100 million in 2003. However, that high-profile bid to go public was at the height of Claria’s power and profit; they quietly aborted the attempt in the fall of 2004 and just recently announced that they are getting out.

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Anti-Spyware Coalition Workshop

On February 8 and 9, I had the opportunity to participate in the Anti-Spyware Coalition Public Workshop. The event brought together representatives from the software industry and government, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Center for Democracy and Technology. In the past year the FTC has filed suit against several of the worst spyware offenders including Enternet Media, and the CDT recently filed an FTC complaint against 180Solutions for its practices. The Anti-Spyware Coalition has been working to craft clear definitions of acceptable software installation behavior.

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Taming the Wild West

Does everyone remember a few years ago the wacko guy that was blowing up mailboxes in the midwest? What I remember most of all is that suddenly everyone was afraid to open their mailboxes. The ramifications were huge. Millions of businesses rely on the US mail to deliver marketing materials, invoices, and other important communications. What would have happened if the US mail became unreliable?

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Sony and Spyware

When I was going to high school in the late 70’s, required reading for all English students was George Orwell’s 1984. I still remember reading about the overly structured life created by a highly bureaucratic government dubbed Big Brother. The book is essentially an anecdote for many of today’s problems related to governmental power versus the privacy and self determination of citizens such as ourselves.

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