Security

Ad-funded software: A potential security vector?

Last week brought news that Microsoft has quietly released an ad-funded version of Microsoft Works. Called Works "SE" -- which stands for "Sponsored Edition" -- the software is available free to PC makers, though they don't get any cut out of the ad revenue. How do you deal with ad software at the moment?

Last week brought news that Microsoft has quietly released an ad-funded version of Microsoft Works. Called Works "SE" -- which stands for "Sponsored Edition" -- the software is available free to PC makers, though they don't get any cut out of the ad revenue.

Excerpt from CNET News:

Users who run the software see a small ad as they are writing their document or editing their spreadsheet. Although the program has the ability to update its set of ads online, today it runs mostly ads for Microsoft and a few partners, all of which ship with the product itself.

While it is highly unlikely that this software will be used at all in a corporate setting, it is not inconceivable that there will be a deluge of similarly positioned software should this selective experiment prove to be a success. Now, pre-installed ads aren't that much of a security problem. Unfortunately, I just don't see how companies can resist from slipping in a real-time advertisement feed eventually.

It is with this train of thought that I posted this blog -- I figured it'll be interesting to see how TechRepublic members in charge of security deal with ad software at the moment.

As users become inundated with and accustomed to ad-funded software, do you reckon this vector will eventually become a major security concern?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

28 comments
ismith
ismith

It doesn't matter if it is free or not. If a program is showing me ads while I'm trying to work, it gets uninstalled. It's bad enough that we have to be bombarded with ads on the Internet without getting annoyed when we're trying to write a document or enter data into a spreadsheet.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Even Microsoft is written in the Torrent.Your OS version can be saved as a template.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...that eventually, most of the products that we use will end up being subsidized one way or another by advertising. We've already seen this in the form of cheap PCs that come loaded with crapware. Also expect to see it in other forms of consumer electronics as well. It's also my prediction that in the upcoming decade(s), a new civil rights movement will emerge because it will be perceived that only the wealthy will be able to afford to live with and in an environment without advertising bombarding them every second of the day.

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What sort of advertising do you feel is so pervasive it violates the free speech right of the audience? Or, is it another right that you consider to be under attack? Why do you think it will get, or is getting worse?

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

What I meant was that there will be those who will argue that rights are being violated, simply by the fact that there will be those who will choose to pay more to be free from advertising. Personally, I do not think that any rights are violated when parties enter into mutual contracts.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

?Mutual Contract? means that both parties entered into a transaction willingly, and both got something out of the deal. In the case of ?Ad-funded software?, the vendor received monies from both the purchaser and the party paying for the ads, and the purchaser received software for less than what it might cost without ad subsidies. On the other hand, the party that chooses software that does not contain ads gets software that does not possess the annoyance of embedded advertising.

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Repeating "the allegory of the cave" doesn't make it so. You still haven't answered: 1. What "contracts" did you mean, 3 posts back? To make it too clear for even you to evade, who has entered into "mutual contracts" to have "advertising bombarding them every second of the day"? Nobody. Contracts that fail to respect human rights are not enforceable in civilized societies, nor advocated by civilized people, simian.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

?I really did wonder whether you were saying something interesting, or just being a prick.? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_cave#Plato.27s_own_remarks_on_the_allegory ?Of course it does. What you advertise is what you're legally bound to provide, if and when you make a sale. But that point wasn't my original intent for making that comment.? Although I agree that one should be legally bound to provide what they promise, the fact remains that we live in an imperfect realm where there is little legal enforcement of what to many appear to be ambiguous concepts. Anyone who works in the IT world is certainly familiar with this problem. And we certainly cannot expect the government, which plays fast and loose with the terminology to enforce adherence to the terms any better. Usually when the government speaks about ?insurance?, what they are really saying is, at best, ?payment plan?, and at worst, ?wealth transfer?. So it?s little wonder that many people, if not most, have come to be confused at to the real meanings of the words. This does not absolve anyone?s personal responsibility to know the difference. But the reality is that they don?t.

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[i]I see. Questioning ?legitimacy? of complaints makes one ?an a-hole?. What a close minded universe you live in![/i] No, you're an a-hole because you advocate rights for corporations, and not for citizens. Yes, you do that exactly, when you argue that click-through and shrink-wrap contracts are enforceable. In fact, once I purchase a thing, I have the absolute right to control it. Any verbiage within my property does not limit my ownership rights one iota, clown. [i]The fact that people market things under misleading terms does not absolved anybody of the responsibility to know better.[/i] Ah, you mean like people who can afford an Apple Macintosh don't get infested with "free" (for a limited period) ISP services that renew automatically, and provide no notice at the time that bills begin, and aren't encumbered with Norton software that won't un-install without downloading rnav.exe or rnis.exe from symantec.com. I understand exactly what you're saying. The complaints are leveled appropriately against the package-dealers of crapware, not against purchasers of Macintosh computers, and the complaints are valid, as has been found by some courts already. Google it. You don't have a right to crap on my lawn, nor my computer. You're a non-sequitur.

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I really did wonder whether you were saying something interesting, or just being a prick. [i]The fact that people market things under misleading terms does not absolve anybody of the responsibility to know better.[/i] Of course it does. What you advertise is what you're legally bound to provide, if and when you make a sale. But that point wasn't my original intent for making that comment. [i]I agree in that the health care industry as practiced in this country is hopelessly screwed up by government intervention (either directly via mandate or indirectly via the tax code) and gross ignorance by a substantial percentage of the population as to what "insurance" really is. (What most people today consider "insurance" is actually a "payment plan"; economically, two very different concepts)[/i] If misuse of the word "insurance" is evidence, in your mind, of "gross ignorance," then that ignorance is [b]primarily[/b] exhibited by the purveyors, not the buyers, of health care plans, because those were first inaccurately described as "insurance" [b]to them, not by them[/b]. Keep digging. Some of my dirt is still in your ditch.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

"I was hoping you're a decent enough person to recognize the legitimacy of the complaints you predict. I'm sorry to learn you're such an a-hole." I see. Questioning ?legitimacy? of complaints makes one ?an a-hole?. What a close minded universe you live in! "Did a "substantial percentage of the population" whose "gross ignorance" you mention in passing, introduce that false nomenclature, or did providers of health care payment plans do that?" The fact that people market things under misleading terms does not absolved anybody of the responsibility to know better. "Ah, you mean like people who can afford an Apple Macintosh don't get infested with "free" (for a limited period) ISP services that renew automatically, and provide no notice at the time that bills begin, and aren't encumbered with Norton software that won't un-install without downloading rnav.exe or rnis.exe from symantec.com. I understand exactly what you're saying. The complaints are leveled appropriately against the package-dealers of crapware, not against purchasers of Macintosh computers, and the complaints are valid, as has been found by some courts already. Google it. You don't have a right to crap on my lawn, nor my computer." Non-sequitur. "Envy is not the correct word. Recipients of corporate welfare and of political bribes are despised, and rightly so." Another non-sequitur. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_cave

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[i]If I remember correctly you were injecting noise into my comment regarding my prediction that there will be those that think it "unfair" that people who only purchase subsidized goods will be subjected to seemingly endless advertising whereas those who pay more for unsubsidized goods will not.[/i] You made two predictions, in separate paragraphs, the purpose of which is to imply some conceptual separation. You were not clear that the prediction in your second paragraph was meant to apply [b]only[/b] to complaints about cheap products "subsidized one way or another by advertising." [i]It's long been a prediction of mine... ...that eventually, most of the products that we use will end up being subsidized one way or another by advertising. We've already seen this in the form of cheap PCs that come loaded with crapware. Also expect to see it in other forms of consumer electronics as well. It's also my prediction that in the upcoming decade(s), a new civil rights movement will emerge because it will be perceived that only the wealthy will be able to afford to live with and in an environment without advertising bombarding them every second of the day.[/i] http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=261342&messageID=2480734 Also, being subjected to an environment of "advertising bombarding them every second of the day" is a totally valid complaint, whether "subsidized" or not. [i]You could not seem to differentiate between my observation and prediction and my supposed advocacy, which are not the same thing.[/i] I was hoping you're a decent enough person to recognize the legitimacy of the complaints you predict. I'm sorry to learn you're such an a-hole. [i]2: I agree in that the health care industry as practiced in this country is hopelessly screwed up by government intervention (either directly via mandate or indirectly via the tax code) and gross ignorance by a substantial percentage of the population as to what "insurance" really is. (What most people today consider "insurance" is actually a "payment plan"; economically, two very different concepts)[/i] Did a "substantial percentage of the population" whose "gross ignorance" you mention in passing, introduce that false nomenclature, or did providers of health care payment plans do that? [i]3: It will not be "Advertising" in and of itself that will be protested. It will be the fact that there will be people who are able/willing to pay more (a premium, if you will) to exist with products and in environments that will be free of advertising, while there will be many who choose not.[/i] Ah, you mean like people who can afford an Apple Macintosh don't get infested with "free" (for a limited period) ISP services that renew automatically, and provide no notice at the time that bills begin, and aren't encumbered with Norton software that won't un-install without downloading rnav.exe or rnis.exe from symantec.com. I understand exactly what you're saying. The complaints are leveled appropriately against the package-dealers of crapware, not against purchasers of Macintosh computers, and the complaints are valid, as has been found by some courts already. Google it. You don't have a right to crap on my lawn, nor my computer. [i](In much the same way that those who choose not to purchase health insurance resent those who do) This will be promulgated by those forwarding the "wealth envy" political agenda.[/i] Envy is not the correct word. Recipients of corporate welfare and of political bribes are despised, and rightly so.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...you were injecting noise into my comment regarding my prediction that there will be those that think it "unfair" that people who only purchase subsidized goods will be subjected to seemingly endless advertising whereas those who pay more for unsubsidized goods will not. You could not seem to differentiate between my observation and prediction and my supposed advocacy, which are not the same thing. 2: I agree in that the health care industry as practiced in this country is hopelessly screwed up by government intervention (either directly via mandate or indirectly via the tax code) and gross ignorance by a substantial percentage of the population as to what "insurance" really is. (What most people today consider "insurance" is actually a "payment plan"; economically, two very different concepts) 3: It will not be "Advertising" in and of itself that will be protested. It will be the fact that there will be people who are able/willing to pay more (a premium, if you will) to exist with products and in environments that will be free of advertising, while there will be many who choose not. (In much the same way that those who choose not to purchase health insurance resent those who do) This will be promulgated by those forwarding the "wealth envy" political agenda.

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1. What "contracts" did you mean, 3 posts back? 2. Health care has been subject to government-mandated regulations which have driven up prices considerably. Ask any long-time professional in that field what percentage of licensed caregivers' on-the-clock time is now spent on paperwork, and to compare to the same ratio at the beginning of their careers. It is within the reach of any and all of us to petition our Congresscritters for more reasonable agendas than we are accustomed to doing. Nobody is holding a gun to the heads of the rich or the poor and coercing us to support lobbyists that prolong the class warfare agendas that are wasting everybody's resources. 3. I'm still curious which forms of advertising you believe will be protested in this movement you predict.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...doesn't mean that I agree with the arguments behind a movement, or with the outcome. There is frequently very little correlation between what I think is "right" in our society, and what actually happens. For example, I believe that socialized medicine is inevitable in the US within the next 20 years. Does that realization automatically imply that I am for it? Of course not! I am 100% against it, and wholeheartedly believe that it will be the worst thing that could happen for our health system and country. I believe in an economy where consumers have a choice, be it in goods subsidized by advertising or health care. I am wholeheartedly against movements that seek to limit that choice. Clear enough?

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But, you said you expect a "new civil rights movement will emerge because it will be perceived that only the wealthy will be able to afford to live with and in an environment without advertising bombarding them every second of the day." Now, you say you feel no rights are being, nor will be violated, thus invalidating the movement you predict. The funny thing, to me, is that I get your point now, when I think about news I've read recently about demands for public access to gov-funded scientific research, for example. [i]Personally, I do not think that any rights are violated when parties enter into mutual contracts.[/i] The adjective "mutual" should be redundant, but we know that contracts have been found unenforceable in the past, and will be in the future as well.

Jaqui
Jaqui

the description of his for advertising fits perfectly with some Sci-Fi novels portrayal of how the world will be. In some ways, rampant consumerism would lead to advertising becoming far more rampant than it currently is. heck, I've seen projected advertisements on the sides of buildings here. if they ever got hologram projection developed to be viable, I wouldn't be surprised to see 3d hologram ads on the sidewalks in cities.

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I don't remember much of that movie but there was some pretty aggressive advertising in his hotel room, IIRC-ish. I have trouble imagining real people tolerating advertising that doesn't shut off whenever we want it to shut off. It seems like a problem I'd solve with a gun or a bomb rather than the courts.

Tearat
Tearat

Gosh another hole in the firewall How uninteresting

Jaqui
Jaqui

there has been ad funded software for years. that is part of where the term ADWARE came from. and yes, it is a security risk, for several different risk factors, most notably identity theft. since the ads would wind up targeting the user to be more effective, that's tracking software, which can easily include confidential information, like logins, credit card numbers, etc. [ remember gator? ] Opera web browser used to have ads in the free version, they removed it, since they didn't get a user base with the ads, and the mozilla and netscape browsers did have a user base, without ads, and freely available.

paulmah
paulmah

When adwares started appearing, a lot of those software tend to be of the dodgy kind. Today, they have gained some kind of acceptance thanks to popular software such as MSN, Yahoo Messenger and the likes. I thought it would be interesting to ask how TR members currently deal with them, especially if mainstream software start including ads in future as well. Regards, Paul Mah.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No MSn, no Yahoo, no google desktop. Bloated valueless threat vectors. Two of the terrestrial tv channels in the UK are paid for by adverising revenue, to that end they put a bunch of ads on every fifteen to twenty minutes. The cable and satelite guys sell their wares on the basis that you don't have to put up with this sort of interuption during your film. So they want to go down that route fine. If they feel a financial squeeze they'll put in more ads and make them more intrusive. It will just make the people I'm working for more viable.... It's alll right for an intro or evaluation product, no one is going to put up with it long term though. If they do they won't 'see' the ads anyway, unless they are annoyingy intrusive. Like that full screen flash crap you guys put on when you hit TR's URL.

Jaqui
Jaqui

any app that contains ads is malware, plain and simple. That's my view. and even MS Works SE is malware if it contains ads.

paulmah
paulmah

As users become inundated with, and accustomed to ad-funded software, do you reckon this vector will eventually become a major security concern?

SKDTech
SKDTech

first hearing of legitimate software having ads when the PC game Battlefield 2142 came out. There were targeted ads in the game(online multiplayer). This was the first occurrence I recall in a paid for piece of software. But as for ad-supported free versions of software, this is nothing new.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Actual would be nearer, Adware is malware with a get out of jail free card attached.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

you beat me to it! Although you phrased it better than I would have. Love that Monopoly reference.