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probably what Jim's friend had-- MS revisied again


Kind of a long story-- but if your computer is doing this... you might want to see this blib from June 14th..

Donna

> Silicon Insider: Spyware 
> 
> 
> Source: ABCNews.com 
> 
> Hundreds of thousands of people opened their computer browser today to
what they thought was their home page - and instead saw the page for
iSearch, a computer "spyware" program that has hijacked their computer.

> 
> Thank you Fidelity Investments. Thank you TD Waterhouse. Thank you
Business Week Online. And thank you every other company that helps pay
for this extortion. [Editor's Note: Since publication of this article on
May 20, Fidelity and TD Waterhouse have taken action; see explanation
below].

> 
> You've probably heard of spyware, virus-like programs that are
unknowingly downloaded by Web users. Spyware comes in several virulent
forms. One notorious type, evil cousins of subscription sites like AOL
and MSN, enable unknown predators to tap into your computer and gain
access to private files.

> 
> This is the type of spyware that gets the most attention from media,
and has been the source of some pending bills in Congress and various
statehouses. It was also the fear of just such intrusive spyware that
led to the backlash a couple weeks ago against Google's proposed GMail
service.

> 
> iSearch represents another type of spyware, one that is more subtle, but ultimately no less destructive. 
> 
> Trapped in Spyware Hell 
> 
> iSearch works something like this: Some time during the course of
surfing the Web, you unknowingly trip over the iSearch applet, which is
instantly downloaded - without your knowing it - into your computer.

> 
> This program then does two things: 1) It orders your computer to
permanently switch to .iSearch.com as your new home page, and 2) Covers
its tracks, so that you can't simply go into your computer's utilities
and replace it. You are now trapped.

> 
> The next time you go on the Web, expecting to see Google or Yahoo! or
ABCNEWS.com as your home page, up pops the iSearch home page. There's
also an iSearch toolbar on the top of your page. "What the H*$*?" you
mutter, figuring it's a mistake, and go on with your business - noting,
with growing annoyance that suddenly you are getting a whole bunch of
new pop-ups about stopping spyware, spam, etc. About the fifth time this
happens, you get furious, and try to use your computer's Internet Tools
window to reset your home page. That's when you are stunned to discover
that it won't work. So you go to Google and type in "iSearch toolbar
removal" - and up pops 2200 results, most of them filled with angry
people in the same predicament as you demanding, even pleading, for
information on how to get iSearch off their computers..

> 
> So you go back to the iSearch home page. Perhaps there's something
there. It's the standard search page: a column of "top searches" sites
on the left, a grid of search categories (auto, finance, gambling, etc.)
covering the rest of the page. You notice that on the "top searches"
items list, the first four are "uninstall software", "anti-virus", "stop
pop-ups" and "clean PC". There we go.

> 
> You click on "uninstall software", and get linked to Uninstaller.com,
which will sell you a software program of that name for $29.95. Next you
type "anti-virus" and get an eerily similar site, virushunter.com, which
offers to sell you its software - for $29.95. Ditto for pop-up blocker.

> 
> Now you are desperate. Back to Google and onto one of those bulletin
boards about uninstalling iSearch. There you find one recommendation
after another for anti-virus programs you can use ... only to learn a
few messages later than the iSearch browser will not allow access to
those programs.

> 
> You are trapped. iSearch holds the cards. It is the equivalent of
someone giving you smallpox, then dangling an ampule of the vaccine in
front of you ... for only $29.95.

> 
> In Search of iSearch 
> 
> I learned most of this from my television business partner Bob Grove,
who, regular readers will remember, was my investigative reporter when I
ran Forbes ASAP. He's the guy who broke the big story on Internet child
porn that helped lead to a lot of the arrests you've read about the last
couple years.

> 
> I asked Bob to chase down iSearch. He was happy to do so - and
motivated as well: iSearch has taken over his computer's browser too.
Here's what Bob found.

> 
> First, you probably won't be surprised to learn that when you go
looking for iSearch there seems to be no there there. The Web site
carries only an e-mail address, no physical address. However, doing a
little research, Bob found that iSearch is actually owned by
iDownload.com, based at 701 Brazos, Suite 500, Austin, Texas 78701 (any
Austin reader of this column care to go by there and see if it is more
than a mail drop?). iDownload has an 800 number, but if you call it you
only get stuck in a phone mail tree.

> 
> Now, would it come as any surprise to you to learn that iDownload not
only owns iSearch, but also popupblocker.com, uninstaller.com and
virushunter.com - and several other $29.95 specials? Probably not.

> 
> But I'll bet you'd be surprised to learn that these products can be
purchased with your Visa, Diners Club, MasterCard, and American Express
cards - making them accessories to this scam. Or that iDownload is a
member of the Better Business Bureau Online Reliability Program (thank
you BBB!)

> 
> Oh, but it doesn't end there Go back to the iSearch home page - like
you have any choice - and click on some of the other "top searches,"
which no doubt, like the first four, are paying advertisers. Try
"investing." What names pop up? Fidelity Investments, TD Waterhouse,
Business Week Online. ...

> 
> Rotten, But Not Illegal 
> 
> What are these reputable (or so we thought) organizations doing there?
There are only three possibilities. First, iSearch is using those names
without permission - in which case, who is minding the store? Second,
those firms bought placement on iSearch, not knowing what it was - in
which case, where is the oversight? Or third, those firms bought
placement on iSearch knowing full well what they were doing - which is
despicable.

> 
> The next time you want to invest your 401(k) money in Fidelity, or you
buy stock through TD Waterhouse, or having any dealings with any of the
other outfits listed on iSearch, you might want to remember what kind of
business they are consorting with.

> 
> OK, this whole thing is rotten, but is it illegal? 
> 
> As far as I can tell, not yet. At least it is not criminal. And that
should make you give serious thought to contacting your state and
national representatives in support of anti-spyware legislation.

> 
> In the meantime, one would think that those companies who are
supporting the iSearches of the world with their advertising (or
financial services), would pull out or, better yet, bring action against
them.

> 
> They should be joined in that civil suit by Google, Yahoo!,
ABCNEWS.com, CNN.com, Drudge and every other popular homepage site that
is seeing its revenues and traffic hijacked by iSearch and its ilk.

> 
> And the thousands of poor victims of this shakedown - what is their
remedy? Google back to "Uninstall iSearch toolbar" and keep reading the
suggested fixes. I can't recommend any of them here - for fear that
iSearch will quickly move to block them.

> 
> Editor's Note - Fidelity responds regarding efforts to have its name
removed from iSearch: "Once we became aware of iSearch, we took
immediate action to get our name off of their site. We were informed
this morning [5/21] in writing by the Overture network that iSearch has
removed our name from their site. While the Web site will still produce
our name in an "organic" search, (which we cannot control), we no longer
appear as a preferred link. As an additional precaution, we are
exploring search engine networks with whom we work to confirm that they
do not include companies like iSearch. ... [W]e are very concerned about
spyware and are supportive of efforts to develop effective anti-spyware
laws."

> 
> Also, on May 24, a TD Waterhouse respresentative responded: "Please
know I have been told that we have instructed Overture to stop running
our ads immediately."

> 
> In addition, Overture itself wrote: "Overture carefully screens our
distribution partners and has a formal policy in place that requires
partners that offer downloadable software to adhere to high standards of
notice, privacy and ease of removal for users. In addition, we require
our partners to obtain the user's explicit consent to the terms of the
agreement and be forthcoming in their terms of service. iSearch is not
and has never been an approved partner of the company. We promptly
investigated after learning of this issue and determined that iSearch
wrongfully obtained access to our listings. Based on our investigation,
we promptly terminated iSearch's unauthorized access and will take other
steps, if necessary, to protect the experience of both our users and
advertisers.

> 
> Michael S. Malone, once called "the Boswell of Silicon Valley," most
recently was editor-at-large of Forbes ASAP magazine. His work as the
nation's first daily high-tech reporter at the San Jose Mercury-News
sparked the writing of his critically acclaimed The Big Score: The
Billion Dollar Story of Silicon Valley, which went on to become a public
TV series. He has written several other highly praised business books
and a novel about Silicon Valley, where he was raised.

> 
> To see more on this story, go to http://www.ABCNews.go.com 
> 
> Copyright 2004 ABCNEWS.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. 

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