Something one-third of my readers may want to know

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

Here's the latest from the computer threat department.

The No. 1 computer virus by a 28 percent margin is Win32.NetSky.q, according to Kapersky Labs. "Win32" means it is a Windows virus. The U.S. tops the list of reports at 13.6 percent, while China and South Korea follow at 9.19 percent.

And phishing continues to climb, increasing by 50 percent since last October according to RSA. Phishing is essentially e-mail which suckers you into responding to a message or visiting a Web site that solicits personal information, and often appears to be from a well-known business or organization.

Man, do I read a lot? Not really. I get these statistics from SC Magazine. They have a nice Web site at www.scmagazineus.com. The main reason I mention it is that it is about the best site for bridging the gap between the average computer user and the world of information technology security. Granted, not everything you read at the site will make sense, but there are a lot of articles that will. And if you think computer security isn't a problem, 15 minutes reading over the headlines may have you crawling into the nearest hole.

Only the printed magazine provides a synopsis of statistics collected from around the world. The statistic of the most interest to me is the one on grayware. Grayware refers to applications that are irritating or undesirable, and everyone has encountered it, usually in the form of adware. Adware, software that display ad banners, accounts for an infection rate of 37.3 percent of all PCs. That's right: one-third of the readers of this article may have been hammered by adware.

I have been studying adware for several months. The most recent encounter came from the so-called protective environs of Facebook. I noticed a flashing announcement that said I had won a pink iPhone. Though I would never be caught in public with pink iPhone, it would certainly be amusing to play with one. My instincts, however, told me to be careful.

Immediately upon clicking the link I recognized the site as the same one I had studied two months earlier. That one announced that I had won a laptop computer and it was posted on the FoxSports Web site.

In both cases I was asked to select various advertisers from which I would receive discounts coupons. I was also asked to first complete a survey stating my name, address and birth date. I lied on the latter since it is a component of financial security. In both cases I designated a unique e-mail address to monitor traffic generated from this site. The e-mail address I posted recorded 90 messages in less than 24 hours!

Next week I will explain how adware defense software works. But other than software, the only option you have is to register a complaint. Neither Facebook nor FoxSports provided a means of responding to Web site issues, so I posted a complaint. Neither have responded to my messages, but I did notice that the offending ad was removed from the FoxSports site after about two weeks.

• Eric M. Niewoehner can be reached at column@juneau.isa-geek.net.



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