Microsoft “AntiSpyware” First Look

Microsoft released a beta of AntiSpyware this morning. I’ve been pretty anal about spyware for quite some time, so I of course decided to give it a look. I personally use a few products on a regular basis. Spybot S&D, LavaSoft Ad-Aware, and Spyware Blaster are my regular arsenal. I use them all and trust them all. Each has their own advantage. The combo of the 3 is my secret recipe for a clean computer (of course mixed with a firewall or 2, and a good virus scanner). And of course Firefox.

Here are a few observations I had:

  • Seems to be a rebranded “Giant Anti-Spyware”. If you used GIANT before, you’ll pretty much be seeing it rebranded. No revolutionary changes are apparent.
  • Advanced tools remind me of Spybot S&D a bit. The ability to explore advanced settings etc. It claims it can restore IE after it’s hijacked. I’ve yet to try this (don’t really plan on it, as I use Firefox).
  • Has “realtime protection”, so it sits in the system tray… not exactly original, but good that it’s active, and doesn’t require a user to initiate the response to spyware. Since users don’t appear to really care so much.
  • Requires Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server™ 2003 according to the website

Gripes

Oh, I’ve got a few gripes.

Price – No official pricing has been mentioned, but the website makes very clear they are talking about the beta when it says it’s a free download. There’s no mention of the product itself. Part of the problem with spyware/adware/mailers is that they are harming the Internet as a whole, not just the user infected. I’m curious why there’s no mention of the release being free?

2000, XP, 2003 only supported – This bugs me quite a bit as well. There are many 95, 98, ME users out there with this problem. Their computers are clogged with this garbage, and clogging our inboxes with spam becuase they are loaded with mailware. But unless they pay for an upgrade to XP, we have to live with that.

Definition of Spyware? – The product fails to clearly differentiate between the different types of problems one may have. For example as many on slashdot noted, VNC is considered Spyware. While it can indeed be used to monitor usage, it’s quite often installed by the user (or the network administrator). Why is VNC considered Spyware, but Windows XP Pro’s “Remote Desktop” DLL’s not considered Spyware? Remote Desktop provides very similar functionality. Both are installed on my computer. Both aren’t running during the scan, but VNC is still detected. “Remote Desktop” is not. Are Microsoft products white listed? What about partners? Who decides? What ichecklist do they use? Is the author of the product a factor?

Conclusion

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t run Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware. It will provide some benefit. But I would still recommend running at least 1 other product at least once a week to keep your computer clean. Not to mention a virus scanner, and a firewall.

I’m personally disappointed at Microsoft’s policy of “security costs extra”. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no mention of plans to deploy this to all windows users using “windows update”. There’s nothing stating the final version will be free, only the beta. There’s no mention of the criteria for spyware that the definition authors use when creating definition updates for the product. And of course, quite a few users with Windows 95, 98, ME are left out in the cold, simply because they can’t pay hundreds for an upgrade (assuming their hardware can handle it).

I personally feel Security should be included at no extra effort or charge to the end user. It’s not a “bonus feature”, “extra”, “pro tool”, “option”, “reloaded”, or any other silly term for add-on. It’s something that a paying user deserves.

Without Spyware there’s no such thing as free software

But some users of iMesh didn’t seem to be troubled by the actions of Marketscore. Users at iMesh forums chided those who complained, posting messages stating that “without spyware there’s no such thing as free software.”

[Source: Wired.com @ 12/6/2004 9:55 AM EST]

SpreadFirefox anyone? This is a common mindset among average internet users. Something that needs to be debunked.

Challenge

Formulate a campaign that SpreadFirefox can use, which would also raise awareness to the fact that Spyware is not required to make software free. Make users realize they don’t have to jeopardize their privacy to get something free. Make them realize privacy is important. And of course, Spread Firefox. Perhaps if someone comes up with a good one it can be the next campaign.

Spyware disabling itself in Spybot S&D

Well, I found this rather alarming. Apparantly some Spyware is learning to disable itself from Spybot S&D. Unfortunately, I went through the list real quick and unchecked all so it searches for everything… but didn’t make note of which made the list (just got home from work, tired, hungry, and not thinking). Blasted, would have been nice to post here and see if just had a corrupt preference file (I just upgraded to 1.3), or if this really is Insurgent Spyware fighting back.

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on this with all systems I have it installed on. With any luck, if it’s really the next generation in Spyware fighting, it will happen again, otherwise, most likely a false alarm.

So more later if I think this is real. Please don’t set off a public alarm, just take a look yourself and see if you find this. Lets not get our panties in a knot. Thanks.

Bugday: Triaging Top 100 Sites

Well, it’s a great goal they have in go through all the Evangelism bugs. That should make some real ground in making sure Mozilla not only meets, but kicks IE’s royal butt everywhere.

What I found interesting was the Alexa Query for the Top 100 English Sites. If you look at those websites, most will never work in Mozilla, and it’s a good thing.

I’m shocked how many spyware/adware/parasite websites made it in:
Offeroptimizer.com
Gator.com
Hotbar
AdultFriendFinder
Internet Optimizer
etc.

Just an interesting note. I’m glad Mozilla is incompatible with that garbage. It ain’t a bug, it’s a feature. 😀 And proudly so.

The Pure Software Act of 2006

A must read article on all the bad software, and how to help users stay away from it.

I really hope it goes to the Feds, and we get a law about this. All websites with downloads must be labeled appropriately, and all downloads must warn before such actions take place. Even commercial software should note right on the box.

We have warnings on everything. I’ve seen markers that say “do not insert in anus”. Why not warnings to protect peoples property (computer), intellectual property (data), and protect the users themselves from fraud?

A well thought out solution to a problem that has pestered everyone. I think it’s a worthwhile thing to make law. This is perhaps one of the best plans presented in quite some time to combat a problem with technology.

Spyware Blaster Supports Mozilla

Spyware Blaster has been updated to version 3.0. This popular Internet Explorer tool blocks most Spyware ActiveX components and Cookies. New to version 3.0 is support for Mozilla. Since there’s no ActiveX support, it blocks some cookies. Perhaps in the future it will protect against malicous XPI’s.

In any regard, it’s great to see a popular product making Mozilla a priority to support. It makes Mozilla even better for those who want security (without disabling all cookies).

Spyware a forbidden word

According to this Slashdot article Gator is going after websites who refer to it’s “product” as spyware.

From their privacy policy:

We don’t know who our users are…

TGC does not know the identity of GAIN-Supported Software users. We do not transmit to our servers personally identifiable information like email addresses, last name, street addresses, or phone numbers. Nor do we have any other sensitive or personal financial information, such as credit card numbers, login IDs, passwords or bank account numbers. Any such information entered into any TGC GAIN-Supported Software application (such as the GatorSM eWallet) will remain on the personal computer upon which it was entered, and will not be sent to our servers.

Yet it also notes information they DO collect:

  • Some of the Web pages viewed
  • The amount of time spent at some Web sites
  • Response to GAIN Ads
  • Standard web log information (excluding IP Addresses) and system settings
  • What software is on the personal computer
  • First name, country, city, and five digit ZIP code
  • Non-personally identifiable information on Web pages and forms
  • Software usage characteristics and preferences

So we have a product, that’s undoubtedly hidden during installation. I always review downloads before installing. I’ve been doing this for years, and install hundreds of products to try a year. I’ve been fooled more than once. Despite being on the lookout. If they fool me, they fool casual users as well. It’s clearly not marked. And how many people have we all seen with this garbage on their computer, and they have no idea where it comes from? If Gator were honestly informing people prior to installation in a manner which could be understood, people would know.

Then the product, which claims to know nothing about the user, also collects enough information (by their own privacy policy’s admission) to identify me.

So a software product, installed without users consent is spying on me. Hmm. Isn’t that the definition of spyware?

These guys make dot com businesses look bad. A few bad apples makes the whole orchard look rotten. And it’s not all rotten. Just a few bad apples such as these. I hope the courts eventually cut down the tree, and burn it.

Sidenote: There are several editions of the privacy policy, depending on the version. Yep, that’s not an attempt to deceive the end user.

Consensual Downloads

I’m a little concerned by some linkage brought by Mozillazine.

Two possible uses here, one inferred is not so good. I’m a bit concerned about this idea being spread around the community. We do NOT want to download Open Source products behind the users back. Doing so would not be a good idea. It will associate fine products like Mozilla, OpenOffice, and Gaim with Spyware and Trojans. If the user wants the files, that’s a different story.

One thing all these products share, is the promise to fight such evils (Mozilla doesn’t download ActiveX, OpenOffice is more secure than Microsoft Office).

An individual who uses such an app for anything such as downloading without the computer owners consent should be well aware that this contradicts the ideas of Open Source, and the values the community holds. Open Source is about freedoms. Freedoms don’t need to happen behind someone back.

While it’s great to see enthusiasm in getting Open Source projects into the world. Don’t do so with unethical means. All it will do is put a negative spin on a good thing. It will hurt, not help Open Source.

Perhaps someone can turn this little Gem into a convenient App so that a user can learn about Open Source alternatives, download and install them from 1 nice little App.

It’s great to be an open source zealot (tell all your friends and family). But don’t do anything that puts open source projects in a negative light. Thousands of programmers have made these projects what they are. They love people promoting their products. But they don’t like people making their products look bad.

I hope others will make a mention of this as well on their blogs, and open source projects. Don’t ruin Open Source.