TECHNOLOGY Hidden programs are a plague to millions of computer users
Spyware is hard to find and hard to remove.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Spyware is brazenly sneaky. In fact, some manufacturers advertise their products as tools to fight the spyware they install. Then they charge customers to remove it. Jim Eshelman of the AumHa Web forum calls such programs "betrayware."
"What these programs have in common," said Ari Schwarz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group in Washington, "is a lack of transparency and an absence of respect for users' ability to control their own computers and Internet connections."
The people who manufacture the code that becomes spyware argue that they are not purposefully setting out to irritate millions of people. They contract the distribution of their software to third-party vendors. Todd Sawicki, director of marketing at 180solutions, a company that delivers targeted Internet advertising, said his industry had been victimized, too.
"We're not trying to be some company stomping on consumers," he said, but acknowledged the company had not been careful enough in overseeing the vendors it hired to distribute its programs.
There to stay
Also, 180's program, nCase, is notorious in the anti-spyware community both for the amount of advertisements it sends to individual computers (hundreds per day) and its near-impossibility to remove. Many spyware programs, like nCase, hide themselves so well they can't be removed even if found by the standard uninstall features of Microsoft Windows.
180solutions has acknowledged this, although not directly, by promoting a replacement program, which is supposed to be more transparent, less intrusive and easier to remove.
Maybe so, but many weeks after Sawicki spoke, a friend called and reported that his computer had been hit by a rash of spyware. With the tools from AumHa, we looked inside, and there sat nCase.
Exactly how it got there was, as usual, impossible to determine. Sawicki attributes the problems to "guys in Bermuda, offshore. They're the online equivalent of spammers. We want them to die a slow and painful death."