How does spyware get into your computer?
Over the years I have fixed literally hundreds of computers and I usually find that their homepages have been replaced by MyWebSearch or other search engines, or that a number of useless toolbars have been embedded into their browsers. But where does this kind of spyware come from?
Most of the time, spyware gets into your computer whenever you download and install free games or other free programs. When downloading any free software (even Java, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader) be sure to read all of the pages and prompts carefully. Most often you will see something else “pre-checked” to be installed into your browser automatically. Unless you specifically “un-check” the box that wants to install the excess software, it will install along with the actual software that you wanted. Overall, it’s very sneaky and subtle, and you may miss it if you install things in a hurry.
This hub describes a number of well-known spyware sources that I have encountered while cleaning up people’s computers, make note of them and beware!
MyWebSearch is Spyware
MyWebSearch is a spyware-infested search engine. It’s a creation of Mindspark Interactive Network, Inc. which is based in White Plains NY, and they also have offices in Burbank CA, Oakland CA, New York NY, Bellevue WA and Israel. They have various divisions, including Mindspark Worlds, Mindspark Games, MindSpark Expressions, and Mindspark Labs.
Mindspark is known for creating BringMeSports, Cursor Mania, FunBuddyIcons, FunWebProducts, GamingWonderland, Guffins, HistorySwatter, iWon Games, MindDabble, My Fun Cards, My Mail Notifier, My Mail Signature, My Mail Stamp, My Mail Stationary, My Own Superhero, MyFunCards, MyScrapNook, MyWebFace, MyWebSearch, OurBabyMaker, PopSwatter, Popular Screensavers, RetroGamer, Smiley Central, Webfetti, and Zwinky.
Out of all of the noted sites and products, MyWebSearch is probably the most notorious among computer repair people such as myself, because most of my customers who have been infected with spyware have also had their browser’s home pages replaced with the MyWebSearch spyware-laced search engine.
Conduit is Spyware
Conduit Inc. is mostly known for its unwanted toolbars and browser plugins, and their offices are in Foster City CA as well as in Israel. Conduit’s nefarious products include the Community Toolbar, Conduit Mobile, Wibiya Bar, QuickLaunch Lock Screen, the U Browser and others. Conduit has used Groupon, Fox News, Time Warner Cable, Travelocity, The Weather Channel and hundreds of thousands of other publishers to distribute their toolbars and plugins. Conduit claims that their drive is to “engage people”, but their actual drive is to install their spyware-infested toolbars and browser plugins.
Conduit claims that their search engine is not spyware, they claim that Conduit is trusted, secure, and reliable. However, Conduit is known to be very invasive… it not only replaces your home page, it also force-installs plugins into your web browser that are sometimes difficult to remove. And overall, you would be surprised as to how many legitimate companies are distributing Conduit’s spyware!
Ask.com is Spyware
Ask.com was originally known as Ask Jeeves when it was founded in 1996 by Garrett Gruener and David Warthen in Berkeley CA. Their original intention was to host helpful how-to articles, but they usually copy articles from other sources and you cannot confirm their accuracy. Overall, the Ask.com search engine is a waste of resources, people seldom use it anymore and very few ever did back in the day. The primary way that they get traffic is by having their search page and toolbar force-installed by their publishing partners.
Babylon is Spyware
Babylon.com has founded Israel in 1997, and claims to be the leading global provider of internet search services and language solutions since they claimed the Guinness World Record for “Most Downloads of a Translation Software”. Babylon is mostly known for its free language translation toolbar and search engine, but once you’ve installed their toolbar it invites all kinds of spyware into your computer. Their toolbar is often force-installed without your consent, making the company’s motives appear to be creepy and suspicious.
SiteRanker is Spyware
SiteRanker, which has offices in Boca Raton FL, claims to provide ratings and reviews of websites. It claims to help users stay away from dangerous websites, or to lead them to good web sites. Overall, the service is fake and commercially driven behind the scenes, so the rating system doesn’t actually make a difference in the results… the advertisers that pay SiteRanker skew the results to rank themselves higher. Their force-installed toolbar is yet another useless piece of spyware.
Inbox.com is Spyware
Inbox.com, Inc. is a hideously ugly site that claims to be concerned about your email privacy and security. Their products include inbox storage, free Inbox.com email, photos, and mail hosting, with an organizer and notes, but their most intrusive product is the Inbox Toolbar. Their toolbar force-installs itself into your browser, and most people don’t even use any of its features.
Inbox.com is part of the Xacti Group Companies, who also develop a handful of worthless products including PCRx Security Suite, Spyware Terminator, LinkToMyPC, Web Security Guard, System Protect, IM ToolPack, FaceTurner, Free Fun Stuff, Online Vault Backup and other well-known spyware-laced products that are invasive and difficult to remove with common anti-spyware software. Xacit’s dubious products have leeched into mobile applications, and it’s no surprise that they are also involved in shady business marketing.
ALOT Toolbar is Spyware
ALOT.com is based in New York City, and they are notorious for their ALOT App bar (another toolbar) that force-installs itself into your browser. They claim to be certified by TRUSTe, but since their toolbar is often delivered as spyware, I wouldn’t go near it with a ten-foot pole.
All of the apps that they claim to offer are simply links to other commonly-used sites, so their Appbar is pointless, and it gives paid search results for the specific topics searched. The toolbar also uses false error redirection to spyware infected links, pages and incorrect search results for misspelled web addresses. The company earns income from the advertisement revenues on the toolbar and sending users to spyware-loaded search results.
Searchqu is Spyware
Searchqu is basically another worthless search engine, with a companion toolbar that takes over your browser and redirects all search results to spyware and virus-infected web sites. It also takes over the browser’s homepage and makes it difficult to switch back to your original home page. Just like most other toolbars that support criminals and spyware, this one is also difficult to remove.
RebateInformer is Spyware
RebateInformer is powered by RebateBlast, a company that is supposedly located in Boca Raton FL that also side-markets itself as RebateGiant.com and other entities. RebateBlast claims to offer money-saving services including cash back rebates, discount coupons, special promotions and free shipping offers from top brand providers. They claim to be a Microsoft Partner which is not the case. They also claim that their toolbar is spyware-free, but this claim is made by Spyware Terminator, which in turn is made by Xacti Group (the spyware makers of Inbox.com). RebateInformer is a very invasive program, difficult to remove, and is notorious for bombarding users with popups.
Who is the evil wizard behind the curtain?
It appears that one of the primary culprits is a shady corporation called IAC, which is headquartered in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City with business operations and satellite offices in Israel and around the world. Apparently, IAC owns About.com, Ask.com, Chemistry.com, CityGrid, Daily Burn, CollegeHumor Media, HomeAdvisor, Dictionary.com, Electus, Mindspark, Match.com, MeeticGroup, Newsweek & The Daily Beast, Notional, Shoebuy.com, OkCupid, PeopleMedia, Tutor.com, and Vimeo… and probably other spyware-related sites and companies as well.
If you plan on using any of the IAC’s web sites or the programs they create, you are more than likely going to expose your computer to tracking cookies, unwanted spyware, and having toolbars force-installed into your browser… as well as your browser’s home page being replaced by some corny search engine!
Why do these companies install their unwanted spyware by force?
From a moralistic standpoint, when any business relationship is based on a lie, no matter how small or trivial, said businesses will lie about other things, and everything will go downhill from there. Sneaking unwanted, useless software into people’s computers using deceptive bundling techniques is just another form of deceit and should be illegal in the United States. Honestly, if a company’s software or search engine is good enough then people will download it on their own without these companies deceptively force-installing it into people’s computers.
It really makes you wonder why our Federal Government allows well-known spyware-spreading corporations like the IAC, Conduit, Xacti Group, and the others to even do business in the United States, doesn’t it? And also notice that many of these leading spyware corporations are also co-located in Israel. What’s up with Israel? Aren’t they supposed to be our allies? Or is Israel more interested in earning money by installing unwanted spyware into all of our computers?
Free games are never really free!
All free games come with a price, and usually, you will pay in the end one way or another. Many toolbars also come from free game sites, most of which force you to download programs in order to play most of their games. These programs are often infected with spyware and toolbars that earn the game site’s revenue from non-famous search engines and seedy advertisers.
Sites like iWin Games, Popcap.com, Pogo, BigFish, and other well-known free game sites are the common culprits for installing annoying browser toolbars. Even weather sites like WeatherBug and Weather.com are famous for installing toolbars into users’ browsers, and all of these toolbars are completely useless scams.
Removing spyware and toolbars is difficult
Most of the program can be removed by Windows’ Add/Remove Programs feature, but removing them this way does not remove the spyware entirely. After removing them you should run full virus and spyware scans with your security software to ensure no bits of these boogers are left behind in your computer. Uninstalling toolbars is not always an easy task either. Sure, most toolbars are listed in your Add/Remove Programs list as noted, and again they don’t always remove everything. In fact, most toolbars leave spyware behind on purpose so that they can reinstall themselves again later.
All in all, if you have any unwanted toolbars in your browser then you most likely have spyware as well, and sometimes the usual anti-virus programs will not recognize or remove spyware. I prefer to use the following…
If you don’t feel comfortable about removing spyware yourself then I suggest that you use a local professional to remove the bugs for you, look in your local newspapers and yellow pages. If you live in southwestern Massachusetts, contact me for a house call and I’ll remove your unwanted spyware on-site.