General, Security

StopBadware.org’s First Report Targets Kazaa

March 23, 2006

StopBadware.org, a nonprofit watchdog group, has released its first malware report, targeting widely used file-sharing program Kazaa and three other applications.

In testing the programs, StopBadware.org, an effort at consumer protection by industry and educational groups, found all four applications to be “badware” and recommended computer users avoid them.

Kazaa, developed by Sharman Networks, was found guilty of deceptive installation, modifying other software, interfering with the use of a computer and making it difficult to uninstall completely. MediaPipe, a “download manager” that gives users access to media content and is produced by Net Publication Ltd. in the United Kingdom, caused the same problems, with the exception of interfering with computer use.

SpyAxe, which advertises as a spyware removal program, was found to interfere with computer use and was hard to uninstall. Waterfalls 3, a screensaver found on Screensaver.com and produced by Freeze.com, was found to use deceptive installation, modify other software and transmit private information.

StopBadware.org, which issued its report this week, found a number of serious problems with the programs. Kazaa, for example, claims it has no spyware, which it defines as an application that sends personally identifiable information to a third party. However, it includes several bundled programs that are considered spyware under the definition of the Anti-Spyware Coalition, the group said. The coalition defines spyware as software that subverts a computer’s operation for the benefit of a third party.

MediaPipe’s bad behavior includes reserving the right to charge users even after the software is uninstalled. Available through a site called Movieland.com, MediaPipe requires the user to go to a Web site to cancel the “trial obligation.”

SpyAxe includes no “exit” or “quit” button. A “delete spyware” button on the application asks the user to register and pay, and won’t allow the user to exit the software without doing so, the report said. The only way to exit the software is to click the “X” button in the right-hand corner and then right-click the icon in the system tray and choose “exit.” SpyAxe automatically runs again after the computer is restarted.

Waterfalls 3 includes spyware called Webhancer, which monitors Web sites visited by the user and reports this information to a remote server. The user is not told about this potential transmission of personal information, the report said.

The program also comes bundled with what’s effectively a Trojan called New.net, which has an end user license agreement that gives it the right to arbitrarily install software on a user’s computer however it sees fit, which means the application may not be disclosed to the computer user.

StopBadware.org, which launched in January, is led by Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute. The group also has the support of tech companies, including Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems. Consumer Reports WebWatch serves an unpaid special adviser.

CCT will be publishing a series of articles designed to help you combat malware and spyware. In the series, we will review some free programs that were created to help computer users stay safe.

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