Spyware and adware rogues’ gallery

March 8, 2008 – 3:42 PM

The ranks of spyware and adware expand daily, but some take root more often than others. Here are six of the usual suspects.

These spyware and adware mischief-makers have taken root on more than their share of hard disks. Symptoms include performance and compatibility problems, not to mention continuous pop-up invasions.

1: Name: CoolWebSearch

Aliases: CWS

Actions: CWS has more than three dozen variants, with new variants being released almost weekly. Typically, CWS blocks access to popular search engines and redirects users to coolwebsearch.com or other off-brand search sites. Entering incorrect or incomplete URLs results in users getting redirected to adult sites or obscure search sites. It adds links — often to hardcore pornography sites — to browser favorites/bookmarks menus. It also pops up ads — again often for hardcore sites — and changes default start pages to adulthyperlinks.com, allhyperlinks.com, or other ad-heavy directories or adult sites.

Security issues: CWS program code is remotely updated, apparently from a server in Russia. Some variants add CWS? servers to Internet Explorer?s Trusted Sites list, enabling program code — not limited to CWS code — to be installed or altered without permission. Some variants collect and transmit personally identifiable information back to CWS servers.

Other issues: CWS severely impacts infected computer?s performance. Software may freeze or crash, especially Internet Explorer. IE performance is noticeably slowed, particularly page scrolling. Microsoft tech support has had reports of computers locking up, crashing, and rebooting repeatedly due to CWS issues.

Transmission method: More than 1,000 domains are known to be affiliates of CWS. Affiliates get paid per referral/click-through to coolwebsearch.com. Users visiting any one of the affiliate sites may install CWS software by careless clicking on a pop-up or other ad. CWS has apparently been installed without user knowledge or permission via unpatched IE security holes.

2: Name: Xupiter

Aliases: OrbitExplorer(latest Xupiter variant)

Actions: Xupiter launches pop-up ads, changes default home pages, redirects mistyped or incomplete URLs to affiliate sites, redirects search requests to off-brand search sites, and adds Xupiter links to bookmarks/favorites. Xupiter blocks any attempts to restore the original browser settings or to delete Xupiter favorites.

Security issues: Xupiter?s privacy policy notes that Xupiter — or its partners — may deliver programming fixes, updates, and upgrades via automatic updates. ?Users? are also advised that conflicts may occur with other applications and that Xupiter will determine what those applications are so that the company can resolve these conflicts whenever possible. Several versions of Xupiter appear to download other programs such as gambling games onto affected computers.

Other issues: Technical support representatives at Microsoft?s help center say Xupiter has odd effects on Windows XP, making it impossible for some users to open directories such as My Computer on infected computers.

Transmission method: Xupiter is installed via an Internet Explorer toolbar program. Some users claim toolbar was installed without their permission on unpatched versions of IE. Toolbar may be downloaded via Web sites, links in spam advertising a ?Free Christian Toolbar? or a pop-up blocker program, or via links in pop-up ads.

3: Name: Gator Advertising Information Network (GAIN)

Alias: Gator

Actions: Gator overlays ads onto Web pages, tracks what Web sites are visited by users, transmits information about products and services users are interested in, and monitors response to Gator-produced ads. This information is made available to advertisers.

Security issues: According to its privacy policy, Gator transmits information on system settings and configuration information — software installed on the computer, and more — as well as first name, country, city, five-digit ZIP code/postal code, and ?non-personally identifiable information? entered into Web page forms, such as the first four digits of credit card numbers, which identifies the issuing bank but not the cardholder. Gator also auto-installs and/or updates other software components, such as rich media player applications, browser plug-ins, virtual machines, and run-time environments.

Other issues: Gator distributor Claria insists Gator is not spyware and has been involved in several court cases in attempts to prove this claim. Users report computers with Gator exhibit slowed performance and/or software crashes.

Transmission method: The Gator Advertising Information Network offers half a dozen applications that contain Gator, such as a desktop weather forecast program, a calendar, a computer clock synchronization program, the ?Gator e-wallet,? and a program called Websecure Alert, which Gator documentation says ?helps to protect your browser security by monitoring for unauthorized tampering with Internet Explorer?s security settings, and can help to protect your privacy by deleting your web surfing history on a regular basis.?

4: Name: Live Online Portal (LOP)

Aliases: C2

Actions: This family of spyware applications reset user?s default start and search pages to lop.com or one of 200 Live Online Portal (LOP) affiliates such as ifiz.com, iguu.com, samz.com, sckr.com, scrk.com, and sfux.com. LOP resets start and search pages back to lop.com if user attempts to change them, adds shortcuts to advertisers? sites on desktop and links in favorites/bookmarks, and adds new IE toolbar called Accessories, with yet more advertising links.

Security issues: LOP can download and execute arbitrary code from its server.

Other issues: Overall performance is slowed. Mobile users may get frequent dial-up connection requests if their computers are not online when LOP wants to perform some action. Computers may freeze for a few minutes after these connection requests are refused by user. LOP program may demand answers to series of riddles before allowing itself to be manually uninstalled. LOP program may demand answers to series of riddles before allowing itself to be manually uninstalled.

Transmission method: LOP?s most infamous installation method is to create pop-up loops (pop-ups opening pop-ups) featuring ads for MP3 search and download tools. One false or frustrated click in the midst of the pop-up plethora and the machine is infected. LOP has also been bundled as a legitimate music/software download search tool with various freeware software offerings.

5: Name: Cydoor

Aliases: None

Actions: Cydoor produces the usual complement of pop-up ads and many pop-under ads.

Security issues: No security issues are known with recent versions of the software. Program seems to confine its connections with the mothership to updating ad cache, not programming code. Little if any personal information not directly supplied by user is captured. The most recent versions of Cydoor are nearing the point where they can no longer quite be considered spyware.

Other issues: Users do not have to be online to view Cydoor-produced ads. Program pulls ads from cache (c:WindowsSystemadcache) within affected computers. Cache is updated each time user goes online. Anti-spyware vendor PestPatrol reports numerous complaints of Cydoor causing system errors in Windows XP.

Transmission method: Cydoor is widely distributed as a component of p-to-p programs, some freeware games, and other applications. Not offered as a stand-alone download.

6: Name: Look2Me

Aliases: AllAboutSearch.com

Actions: Look2Me primarily displays pop-up advertising for clients. Pop-ups — some full-window size — can appear on screen every minute or so. Look2Me also installs shortcuts on desktops and changes default browser settings. Some users of infected machines report that applications linked to shortcuts have been installed without permission. But tests of Look2Me on patched Windows 2000 and XP systems did not exhibit any capability of self-installing programs.

Security issues: Look2Me monitors Web sites visited and then submits this information to its home server. Look2Me auto-updates its code, and program components could run arbitrary code during this procedure.

Other issues: No significant performance issues have been noted, besides users being pelted with pop-up ads. IE may slow down. Look2Me will not show up as a running process or application as it tightly integrates itself with Internet Explorer, making it difficult to monitor and manage its activity.


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