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Advertising -  a Means? Or the End?

Adware - Spyware, the Bad Guys

(2004) - Microsoft's attempt to convert your PC's screen to an advertising billboard with their beta XP version several years ago, seems to have started us down this slippery slide. Although the outcry prevented Microsoft from pursuing this concept, a whole host of other less scrupulous concerns took the opening to an entirely new level. Adware and Spyware is now considered as big a threat, if not bigger, than viruses and spam.

What most folks don't realize about this problem, is that it is possible to infect your computer just by installing that cool freebee software that came with your latest hardware accessory like a webcam, APS, or IM application. Several of my customers have had their computers rendered unusable, including one of my own, due to the Bad Guys.

And now a Good Guy has come to the rescue. AP is reporting that New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has entered the fray, suing the Internet marketing company Intermix Media Inc.

"Spyware and adware are more than an annoyance," Spitzer said. "These fraudulent programs foul machines, undermine productivity and in many cases frustrate consumers' efforts to remove them from their computers. These issues can serve to be a hindrance to the growth of e-commerce."

Barbarians at the Digital Gate

Last September (2004), the NY Times ran an article entitled "Barbarians at the Digital Gate", which described the business model used by Spyware and Adware agents. The Barbarians, are a growing group of people who get paid to think of clever ways to force you to view an arbitrary advertisement on your computer screen. And for a growing number of Internet users, these advertisements have no off switch.

It had never occurred to me that you could actually make money by hijacking someone's home page, or by displaying advertisements so poorly placed, that the click through rates are nil. Could this be the Internet's version of Telcom slamming? (See Roger Abbott in the Telcom Hall of Shame)

Asymmetric Warfare

If my experiences over the last month are any indication, it would appear that the Barbarians are now even more savage, engaged in asymmetric warfare. It is becoming harder to detect and stop the acts of trespass. So difficult, in fact, that most folks are forced to put up with it. (or switch to UNIX:))

I too, over the last six months (2004), had noticed my computer was taking longer and longer to boot. Since I run a good firewall with virus protection, keep up-to-date with all Windows security releases and periodically scan my system with the likes of SpyBot and Ad-Aware, I thought I was on top of the game. But then this IE window started appearing, urging me to click on it for a free screen saver.

My logs indicated that my machine was making a request to ads1.revenue.net, which then generated a request to landing.domainsponsor.com that displayed the ad. Another request to fccsd.com usually followed an IE exit, which displays a poorly constructed page of links offering some form of search.

Firewall Rules

I was able to write a few firewall rules to help track down the sources, with surprising results. Both the Logitech Desk Messenger and the APC applications were contacting domainsponsors.com during boot up. Neither app is useful, so bye-bye. I also caught the Microsoft scheduler making a similar request over the network. Something else in my startup sequence?

Then there is IE, where I found an annoying .dll that was loading, apparently with the specific intent of generating a request from the comfort of a so called Trusted Zone, thereby bypassing the firewall. You have to draw a line somewhere. For me, that line was crossed long ago. So I decided to research the topic.

Domainsponsors.com

A website called the "Domain Name Journal" has a positive slant on domainsponsors.com which is run by Oversee.net. Great pictures of the building where their office space is located! In this made for investors PR article, Oversee.net claims to deliver targeted Internet traffic to it's customers by recycling parked domain names. A silver bullet.

Others, including myself, are not impressed. Karsten M. Self is no fan of spyware and he has reason to rant. In fact, Karsten characterizes domainsponsor.com as the "really bad guys". He even includes a link to Investors Supporting Spyware by Ben Edelman at Harvard University, who researches legal and technical issues concerning adware and spyware.

A Means to an End?

Sometimes in life we ask questions without considering whether the question has meaning. So it is, with my question, "Has some Internet advertising become the End"? In the case of my recent tussle with domainsponsors.com, there is no redeeming means to an end in a traditional advertising sense. No intrigue, no building of a slippery slide.

Perhaps the barbarians have effectively disguised the product. What purpose does generating millions of useless ads serve, but to fill up some of that excess telcom capacity built up during the dot com bubble.

Hard to say. What I can say is, "Look Mom, no more ads!"

A Solution

The arrival of SP4 for WIN2K and NIS2005 and successful installation thereof put an end to the apparent corruption of the Windows system internals caused by the Adware trespassers. Microsoft has been extremely helpful, having a tech rep stay in constant touch during the upgrade, at no charge. My guess is Microsoft is more than a little ticked over the whole matter.

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Last modified: November 16, 2006
Copyright @ 2003-2006
Gossamer Computer Services, LLC

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