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PCs spooked by uninvited guests

Discussion in 'Earlier Versions of Windows' started by prospect, Oct 11, 2003.

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  1. prospect

    prospect Thread Starter

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    PCs spooked by uninvited guests
    Malware's blight outpaces viruses





    By Lou Dolinar, Newsday
    Tribune Newspapers
    Published October 11, 2003

    Lynne Viccaro O'Leary had to reinstall Windows. Barry Loeb thought a malicious hacker had taken control of his PC. Ken Wenthen was ready to throw out his computer.

    All three had similar problems: computer slowdowns, program crashes, mysterious software modules loading automatically and scads of windows popping up constantly. But the culprit wasn't hackers or the usual bestiary that dominated cybercrime this past summer.




    Rather, it was malware--the latest and perhaps most worrisome scourge to hit computers. These programs take over your computer, spy on your online habits and perform mischief such as dialing $10-a-minute phone services based in the Solomon Islands.

    "A lot of these monsters are coming out of the closet," said Bryson Gordon of McAfee Associates, an antivirus firm that, along with chief competitor Symantec, recently added malware protection to its products.

    While definitions vary, these "monsters" are designed to make a buck for their authors, rather than boost the ego of hackers.

    The genre comes in several flavors: adware, which typically pops up unwanted windows on your screen, takes over your home page, or diverts you to Web sites you don't want to visit; spyware, which monitors your surfing habits and can send the data to a third party; and dialers, which seize control of modems and make pricey overseas calls, often to porn services.

    "We started detecting this stuff actively on Aug. 20, and the amazing thing was, within two weeks, we had over 2.5 million files detected," Gordon said. "Something like 20 percent of users reporting back had spyware, adware or dialers on their systems."

    In fact, commercial malware is now more prevalent on PCs than the viruses, trojans and worms that computer users have been struggling with for the better part of a decade, he said.

    Role of peer-to-peer networks

    Where do these unwanted programs come from? According to Bill Webb of Counterexploitation (www.cexx.org), a private organization that offers advice on dealing with spam and malware, most adware comes from operators of peer-to-peer music sharing networks, including Kazaa.

    "Many of these companies make a concerted effort to downplay or obscure any mention of their product's less desirable activities," Webb said in an e-mail. "The product's advertising or data-gathering capabilities are typically disclosed, but often amid 10-plus pages of legalese. The less-savvy user comes away with the impression that the data-gathering component is actually doing them a favor."

    Adware and spyware support the file-sharing industry, said Wayne Rosso, president of Grokster. "I understand why people are annoyed, but you should pay attention when you agree to something on screen. We have to pay the bills."

    Most file-sharing or peer-to-peer networks such as Grokster let subscribers opt out of adware and spyware for a modest annual fee that he said makes up for lost advertising revenue--in Grokster's case, about $20 per year, per user.

    According to Webb, even the most benign adware can destabilize computers.

    "When this genre of software was relatively new the programs were designed not to be noticed, and users' primary concern was that they were collecting personal data from their PCs," he said. "Now one of the biggest concerns is that users can't even use their computers after some of these programs install."

    Being on the receiving end of some of these nasties is no fun, computer users say.

    Ken Wenthen of West Hempstead, N.Y., recalled his initial run-in:

    "I have a 15-year-old son sitting at the computer. I'm sitting next to him watching TV. All of a sudden, poof, an `Adult' icon of a folder with a picture of a woman on it pops up on screen, then poof, another folder for gambling, with an ace of spades on it; then a third and fourth. I said, `This doesn't look good.' Who knows what's going to come up in front of his eyes? I tried to delete the icons, but no less than 10 seconds later, poof, they were right back up onto my desktop again."

    More and more pop-up windows began to appear, the Internet connection froze, and the computer virtually ground to a halt. He was ready to throw out the machine when he read about malicious adware and decided to try a scanner program called Ad-aware.

    "The first time I ran Ad-aware it found something like 117 different and horrible things," Wenthen said. He ran the scanner four times to try to pick up programs that hide themselves and, sure enough, found another 70 entries on the second pass, and 30 on the third. By the fourth run, he was clean.

    Files that cannot be removed

    Wenthen was actually lucky. Some malware sinks its hooks so deeply, by replacing critical Windows files with its own versions, that removing them may damage the PC. That's what happened to Lynne Viccaro O'Leary of Massapequa, N.Y.

    "I got really sick of the pop-ups. I tried different pop-up stoppers and they didn't work. ... I started looking into it and realized it was spyware. In a way it was fascinating that something like this could exist--you couldn't delete them."

    She tried Spybot Search & Destroy, another popular scanner/removal tool. "It worked too well. It eliminated parts of Internet Explorer and Windows. I had to reload them both." She now uses a less aggressive program, PestScan, that gives the user the option of what to delete.

    Barry Loeb, who runs a sales and marketing business from his New York home, still hasn't been able to fully clean up his computer, even though he's run both Spybot and Ad-aware.

    "I've regained sufficient control that my system is usable," Loeb said, even though the computer is slow and some mysterious processes are running in the background when he shuts down.

    Most experts said they expect commercial malware to become more aggressive, driven by billions of dollars in advertising, as well as criminal bonanzas such as dialers, which can grab $500 or $1,000 in phone fees from an unsuspecting user.

    "We're seeing everything coming together," Gordon said. "There's a growing convergence of financial interest, the spam toolkit, the hacking toolkit and the virus-writing toolkit. We're nowhere near the crest of this yet."


    Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
     
  2. steamwiz

    steamwiz

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    They should have posted hijackthis logs here at TSG - we'd have sorted them out:D

    steam
     
  3. prospect

    prospect Thread Starter

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    Yeah I know steam, but I though it was a good read for the TSG Members. I also found another at the Washington Post today.
     
  4. steamwiz

    steamwiz

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    Hi prospect

    Hey I was kidding, :D and it was interesting to read ;)

    steam
     
  5. prospect

    prospect Thread Starter

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    Oh OK! LOL
     
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