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  Home > Adware
 

Advertiser Supported Software
some personal comments by CFS editor, Graham Pockett

Advertiser-supported programs are the new wave of free software which works much like free-to-air television, free local newspapers – even most Internet sites! Users ‘pay’ to use the program (or the Website) by seeing and, hopefully for the advertiser, clicking on the ads.

The concept for adware, as it is called, is excellent – authors can now afford to develop their programs and users get to access the program for apparently nothing. By being paid to distribute ‘free’ software authors can now afford to spend more time on them so there is less of the “user be damned” or “what did you expect from a free program” attitude found with some freeware authors.

However, the implementation of some of these ads is less than good. It appears that some agencies who sell this concept to authors are less than up-front about how this advertising works and there have been claims of advertising supported programs sending back a stream of non-related information to the originator of the ads (commonly called "spyware"). See The Anatomy of File Download Spyware. This page is subtitled “What do the NetZip-descended file downloaders whisper when they think you are not listening?” The answer, according to researcher Steve Gibson, is chilling!


an advertiser supported program, Net Vampire

I agree that the advertiser must know when an ad is displayed, and for how long that ad is displayed, so information must travel both ways over the Internet. However, it appears that some advertisers (or their agencies) go much further in this regard than others and may be sending identifiable information about users (a recipe for financial ruin if users get wind of it!) and also about what that user is doing (Websites being visited, programs being downloaded, etc).

Many advertisers are now placing links to the computer’s Registry that activates a small program every time that computer is booted up (called an "ad bot"). That small program loads, even if the host program is not loaded! What information is being transmitted by these little programs is unknown, and we are very worried about some that seem to be impossible to remove.

Others "steal" your homepage (replace it with an advertiser's page) and some place links within Internet Explorer that add a search bar or other advertiser-supported links. These are done by using BHOs (browser helper objects), a "feature" of the Internet Explorer browser and one that leaves your computer open to abuse. SpywareGuard and BHODemon (see below) are programs that will remove these BHOs, or prevent them from being loaded.

Below: detecting a BHO with SpywareGuard

If you run a small program called RegRun (see below) you can see exactly what is loaded at boot up and you can easily delete the ad bots if you know they are there. You don’t have to be paranoid to wonder what information is being passed over the Net, and to whom! Of course, most people do not know it is automatically loaded in their system so they are subject to a potential loss of their privacy by stealth.

Below: ad bots (circled) detected with RegRun

So some advertising agencies are creating problems for this fledgling industry being being too intrusive and adding secret programs to a computer without your permission. In time they will be weeded out and there won’t be any advertising which:

  • passes back information which can identify a user;
  • runs constantly, even when the program is closed; or
  • passes back more information than the bare necessities – which ad was displayed, for how long, and if someone clicked on that ad.
Until then, we must be very careful about adware and use it with caution.

The advertising industry must regulate itself and ban these poor and often illegal activities. If they don’t, government regulators will step in and take control of this industry – something which, I am sure, they would not like to see! However, ultimately users will vote with their feet and advertisers will not get a good response to their ads because everyone will be too cautious to use them.

The future of adware is in the hands of the agencies which provide it and the authors who use it!

Until that happens, I suggest that every PC user grabs a copy of some of the following spyware and adware seeking (and eliminating) programs. None of them, on their own, will find and remove all spyware and adware from your computer but, collectively, they will remove most of them.

AD-aware
Detects and removes Web3000, Gator, Cydoor, Radiate\Aureate, Flyswat, Conducent\TimeSink, CometCursor (1.0 and 2.0), Alexa, etc advertising (sometimes called ‘spyware’!) from advertising-supported (‘adware’) software.
Review/screenshots 1.46MB

BHODemon
Lists all BHOs (Browser Helper Objects) and protects you from them by letting you enable/disable them individually (a BHO is a small program that runs automatically every time you start your IE Web browser); features detailed info about each BHO, and more.
Review/screenshots 2.01MB

Aranea Spywizard
Detects & cleans a computer infected with spyware, adware or backdoor trojans and helps remove annoying dialers, popups, toolbars, Internet worms, hacker tools, etc; features Live Update, temporary files remover, and more. Nagware, requires Win98 or later.
Review/screenshots 3.70MB

SpyBot Search & Destroy
Searches out spyware and/or advertising links within a computer which can then be selected and removed; features PC immunization to prevent spyware from loading on a computer, can clean the tracks of where you’ve been, semi-auto updates, recovery, etc.
Review/screenshots 4.15MB

EMCO Malware Bouncer
Quarantines & removes malware (adware, trojans, worms, spyware & dialers) installed with or without the users knowledge; features over 5,000 malware signatures, removes peer-to-peer software, displays startup items, and more. Requires Windows XP or later.
Review/screenshots 3.00MB

SpywareGuard
Provides real-time protection against spyware (like an anti-virus program) and prevents execution if spyware is detected; features download protection, browser hijacking protection, LiveUpdate, scans files before they are run, and more. Requires Win98 or later & Windows Script Runtime.
Review/screenshots 1.96MB

SpywareBlaster
Prevents the installation of spyware on a computer and kills spyware ActiveX controls from a Webpage (does not interfere with "friendly" ActiveX controls); it only targets items used by spyware and browser hijackers to embed themselves into your system.
Review/screenshots 2.16MB

Here is the information about RegRun (mentioned above), though you will need to be a member of CFS to download it from our server.

Regrun v1.51
Show/edit/delete programs started from the system Registry at first boot up; features backup & undo. Use with caution.
Review/screenshot 270kB

If you see that a spyware program keeps coming back, even after you have deleted the startup link using RegRun, you may have to re-boot the computer into Safe Mode (press F4 when Windows first starts to load to access Safe Mode) and then open RegRun and delete the startup entry. Rebooting the computer and re-opening RegRun should show that the program is now deleted from the startup list. This does not remove the malicious program from your computer, but prevents it from loading automatically with Windows – which should be all the protection you need.


Graham Pockett, Founder & Editor
Completely FREE Software
 

TIP:CFS recommends the Mozilla Firefox Web browser. It does not have the security problems associated with Internet Explorer and is generally faster in operation. IE is still necessary for those sites, usually created with Microsoft products, accessible only by IE Web browsers (the Microsoft way of creating a monopoly?).
CFS also recommends that Outlook/Outlook Express is not used as your e-mail client. We use Eudora Pro, but also highly recommend Pegasus Mail and Thunderbird. Because malicious hackers target Outlook/Outlook Express, its users have more problems with spyware, viruses and trojans than users of other e-mail programs.

   



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Last Updated: Monday, October 16, 2017
 

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