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Spyware

By pctech ·
One may ask why I would start this discussion about spyware under the Security topic. Simple, I see spyware as a possible security threat. If not now, certainly in the very near future.
The term "spyware" is becoming more and more ambiguous. At it's conception, spyware was nothing more than a cookie placed on your computer to collect rather benign information about your system and your preferences on how a page was displayed when you visited a website. This is no longer the case. The only true distinction between viruses and some spyware is that the spyware does not conatin a "harmful" payload that could damage your system. Once spyware does carry a harmful payload it is then reclassified as a virus or a worm. Even this distinction is becoming muddied because spyware can have a direct effect on system performance and your ability to use your computer reliably.
So, as techs, what do we do about it? We are not limited in what we can do to rid systems of spyware. One at a time. We can do this by using the very valuable, and very free tools we can download off the intenet. As good as these applications are, they are not the definitive answer to the problems of spyware. This process is simply too slow and is more and more an ineffective method, for too many systems remain infected. Using this tactic, spyware wins. Hands down. We, as techs, must also be information sources to end users and let them know of the problems spyware creates and how to keep their systems clean. Our chances improve with this method but, too few voices to be heard by too many ears. Some lack the skills to use the tools we can help them obtain. We must teach the use of these tools as well. All for free for any true impacts to be realized in the war against spyware. I do not imply that the initial service of "cleaning" their systems should not be without a charge but, teaching them how to avoid future infections and cleaning of their own systems in the future should be a free service we provide to them. We need to inform users that some of the "tools" available to them also are spyware within themselves. Trickery is a standard practice for spyware programmers.
We can have better success as consumers. We, as consumers, need to let these advertisers know that their products will NOT be used from any company that employs the use of spyware to sell their products. A larger and more effective voice that advertisers will have to pay heed to. For this to have an impact, consumers must be resolved to stand firm in their commitment to avoid buying products sold by these companies. This method of fighting the war on spyware will have a better chance of succeeding.
What about as members of society? What can society itself do to combat the onslaught of spyware? This will take legislation. Strong, very effective legislation. Society will need to decide what is just treatment for those that invade and take over our computers. I have my own proposals but, I can not speak for society.

Mike Rankin

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Free Tools

by gpartridge In reply to End users

Unfortunately the free versions of Adaware and Spybot only remove the spyware and do not give ongoing protection.
I would expect in the future most PCs will be running antispyware software as well as antivirus software.

I would like to see Nai etc release antivirus software that also protects against spyware.
The problem is, at the moment, probably worse than the threat from viruses in terms of support costs to companies.

I feel that companies like Lavasoftusa can't invest the same amount of money for researching new threats as larger enterprises such as NAI.

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Problem is with education

by jcp In reply to Free Tools

I find that with many of these issues... and there are related issues like the abuse of instant message services ... there are sufficient users who are unaware of the larger impact of the problem that they will do little or nothing about it.

This allows the problem to propagate.

I also find it really condescending of people like you PCTech to talk about denying admin rights to users... the problem is eased when we ALL deny ourselves admin rights. We should be taking a unix-like view of admin rights. To wit, something to you only use when you absolutely have to.

This is not easy. The way many programs operate does not make them work properly in a Microsoft world. To give a very small example - I have had to stop using a simple Disk drive temperature monitor program - DTemp, because it does not have sufficient access rights to read the drive when I am the Superuser ( and I would really prefer to run as a USER ) to avoid viruses etc.

But I prefer to stop using DTemp to rebuilding my computer thanks to viruses, or having all my data visible on the web through Spybots.


The Unix feature that Windows 2000 does not have that would allow administration to be a lot more sensible (and I am not a Unix advocate at all ) is the ability to slip into superuser rights, perform a task at that level and drop back down to normal rights level. This would minimise exposure to all the problems by encouraging all of us to run at the lowest access rights that we need to do our job, thus denying the virus, and spyware of the high-level access to the computer.

Security really starts at home, and I am as guilty as anyone. It has been hard for me to break the habit of setting myself up as an administrator. I lose a lot of access rights and therefore convenience.

John.

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Absolutely

by arleenw In reply to Problem is with education

You can go and clean a home user's system, but once you leave you have no control over what they do. Leaving them with regular user rights only causes problems with functionality which results in phone calls. It is not a viable solution to put restrictions on a computer for a home user. It's not the same as a corporate network where you have daily interaction and control over the environment.
Quite frankly, it is the users responsibility to understand how to use a computer, it's vulnerabilities and how to implement best practices. Security works in a Unix environment because the people that use Unix are geeks who like this kind of stuff. Most home users just want the computer to integrate into thier lives so they can be productive - they don't care how it works. Microsoft has marketed their products to this audience by making their products seemingly easy to use. Unfortunately, that is inaccurate because in order for your system to run properly, you must educate yourself.
I personally will not make myself responsible for what the client does with their computer. I will give them the all information they need, but I cannot make them learn it or practice it. I can fix the problem for the moment, but they are on their own once the computer leaves my control. They have to learn the consequences of their behavior.
Recommend Mac to home users, migrate to Linux in the workplace. Use alternative browsers.

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Ever tried Linux?

by black-jack In reply to Absolutely

I run Linux on my home computer, even though I am a Windows XP shop system administrator at work.

At work, users are constantly getting spyware and sometimes a virus, even though we have users with limited access, a corporate firewall, and McAfee anivirus with daily updates.

My wife and I botrh have Linux machines without anti-virus protection (not needed) and have not had any infections since installing the software (more than a year).

What was that about MS being more secure than Linux/Unix?

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Amen Y'all!

by DumbUser In reply to Problem is with education

Couldn't agree more. Users have to learn how to use their machines, and putting them in a playpen when they can't screw the machines up is only enabling them to remain ignorant.

Heck, if we applied this same kind of logic to cars, only certified mechanics would have keys to the hoods of cars.

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If cars were driven by the web...

by JTorres In reply to Amen Y'all!

Since the analogy was brought up, wouldn't it be grand if you were wanting to drive to Target only to have your car take you to Wal-mart, or the strip club downtown? I have gone to many of my users home to unhi-jack their and or their kids pc because no matter what they do, their browser takes them to some porn site or other site besides their wanted home page. Not all users are ignorant or computer illiterate and they still struggle with malware or scumware such as this. Asking your casual home user to take preventative measures to prevent this is not as easy as it sounds. Many of us know we can use programs like Ad-Aware and Spybot S&amp to help us with this problem. How are you aware of these programs? Most of us monitor sites such as this to be well informed about what is going on and what resources are available; it's our job to do so. How would your spouses or children fare if they needed to load some software on their TV so they are not constantly redirected to the risqu? channels on your TV because it was hi-jacked. The computer industry, as well as Microsoft, portrays the modern computer as a utility they just plug in and it just works, much like a TV. Microsoft has created many of the problems we are having now simply because it did not or refused to consider that leaving their browser and OS so open for advertisers to "push" information "you want" would have caused such a nightmare. Remember when Microsoft thought that the web was just going to be a short-lived trend. They had no interest in it until they figured out that they could make money with advertisers by giving them the tools to advertise on their OS. So much did they realize this cash cow, that they single handedly did everything they could to monopolize the browser market. I feel strongly a few things need to be done that would greatly help in this situation. First, Microsoft must stop trying to play to the advertisers and secure their OS. Second, laws need to be put in place to give people the power to stop this thing from being allowed in the first place. Realize that pretty much everything you subscribe to automatically ops you in to buying or agreeing to something. You do not have to click or say yes for them to do it. This has been a problem with the sales industry in general. How many offers have you gotten that say, ?If you don?t want this just let us know and we?ll cancel you. Otherwise we will only bill you $50 a month?? This opt-in BS is what gets you if you don?t send the EULA to your lawyer for review. And of course, we all read and understand every EULA that pops up. Third, more anti-malware tools need to be made available in stores to the general population to help fight this just like anti-virus software is available. Jump out of your tech shoes for a moment and get into your mothers shoes. That is what our biggest problem is. Our perception of the problem needs to be from her point of view not ours or not ours.

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Education only works for those that want to be educated.

by ARAHIGIHS In reply to Problem is with education

I have the priviledge of working for a company whose main staple of computer users are from the generation that saw the first PC. Bluntly, they are computer illiterate. Which can add copious amounts of hilarity to my day. Don't get me wrong, they know how to do what they need to do and they do realize the setbacks that we face by allowing mal-ware free reign. Realizing this, the Board of Directors has set strict guidelines for users. If they don't need it, they don't get it.
For instance, many of the people in our Call Center don't need access to the internet so they have had IE removed from their PC. Some can only visit certain websites. Others don't need email. The list goes on.
Although this "workaround" is time-consuming, it has proven to be highly effective as we have been able to isolate the PC's that have virtually un-hindered access to the internet. And though it doesn't solve the problem, it eases the workload for our IT dept. considerably.

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What about?

by scott.quillen In reply to Problem is with education

>The Unix feature that Windows 2000 does not have
>that would allow administration to be a lot more
>sensible (and I am not a Unix advocate at all ) is
>the ability to slip into superuser rights, perform
>a task at that level and drop back down to normal
>rights level.

The "Run As" feature in 2k/XP/2k3 accomplishes this, doesn't it? Right-click any application, select 'run as' and enter your administrative credentials... It's not the easiest thing to do, but it does work.

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Education is only a part of it

by ottersmoo In reply to Problem is with education

I disagree that end users in a corporate environment are responsible for knowing how to fix their own computers or even troubleshoot them. They are responsible for knowing how to do their jobs which sometimes require a computer. It is our job, as techs, to keep those machines running so that they can do their jobs. Therefore, the problem of spyware falls squarely on our shoulders.

Education is a PART of it and you can give them tips on how to "surf safe" but that will not work for everyone, nor will it stop everything because they secretly install and use trickery that can fool even a very savvy user.

The problem of spyware is in it's infancy and if you think back to when viruses were very new, these very same discussions were raging in every IT department across the country. The tools to fix it have not caught up to the technology yet. The other issue is that most of what we call spyware is actually adware. And perfectly legal. Which is why companies like NAV and McAfee are hesitant to develop software that blocks these ads and remove these products. They could get sued.

So here we techs stand in a sticky situation. We're having to onesie-twosie it and remove spyware one infection at a time using free tools, that while they are very good, they don't catch everything.

As I said before, education is a part of this but that is only one weapon in this very ugly war. The other is software tools to clean it, which have yet to come into their own. The third front we are fighting on is the legality of what these programs do. There is legislation in the works but it's coming at it from the wrong angle. We should legislate software behavior. For one example, it should be illegal to create a software program that resists removal from a corporately owned, or a personally owned computer. That computer is property that does NOT belong to the company that covertly installed it's program. I should be able to take ANY program off my machine with EASE and confidence that it is COMPLETELY removed. I should be able to do whatever I want with my computer because I paid for it. It's my property.

If you want to get more information about the legislation that is in both the House and the Senate, go to www.spywareinfo.com. This site is the frequent recipient of DOS attacks so please be patient. He's got some great information on that site and discusses the problem in a very intelligent and multi-faceted manner.

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I Did Not Say Fix Computers

by jcp In reply to Education is only a part ...

offersmoo, I think your response, if it was to my comment that Education was necessary (as it's title implies) is not really following what I said.

I did not imply that users need to be trained to to become responsible for fixing, or trouble-shooting their computers.

All I said was that there is more education necassary, partly because the primary OS that is used (Windows in it's various versions) needs more Training/Education than most users have.

I also said that Microsoft could be a little more helpful in making life easier for ordinary users when it comes to keeping spyware, and virues, off their desktop computers.

Please do not put words in my mouth as you submit your comments.

Thank you.
John.

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