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The Invited Virus

By JB Snead
Posted Saturday, November 27, 2004

File-sharing and Adware software is detrimental to corporate network performance, but over 75% of companies are "infected" with them. A recent survey conducted by AssetMetrix found that over 77% of corporate networks carry some form of Adware enabled file-sharing software.

“So what?”, you might ask. Well, let's begin with some definitions:

Adware (and Spyware) are applications that track and monitor your internet activity, then uses that information to determine what type of advertising you might buy into; they often provide access to your computer, allowing pop ups to appear even when you aren't using your browser. These programs are usually bundled with some other software – peer-to-peer file-sharing software (Kazaa, Xupiter, Grokster) are by far the most common, but other utilities, such as chat, instant messenger, and even diagnostic utilities can contain them as well. In fact, any time you install a free program, whether you download it or receive it via email, chances are, you are installing some sort of Adware on your system. If the software tells you about it, its Adware; if its done without your knowledge, its Spyware. (Note: There are literally thousands of applications that claim to remove Adware from your computer; many of these programs are actually developed by peer-to-peer companies and are designed to disable a competitor's software, then install their own.)

File-sharing software allows computer users to not only search for and download music, but any type of computer file. This is accomplished by establishing a “public” folder within the computer that is accessible to anyone over the internet.

Now, back to your question.

Problem number one: Adware slows down networks. Adware is designed to accomplish three things: gather and publish information about you; provide access to your system for pop up advertisements and emails; and install updates for the Adware. The last consideration in their design is efficiency. Much like a virus, Adware applications tend to grow exponentially; they “update” themselves, often installing more Adware applications. Some of them even attach themselves to your outgoing emails. These activities require that information be transmitting across the internet – and your network – constantly. This unregulated use of bandwidth can cause entire networks to slow down to nearly nothing.

Problem number two: Adware slows down computers. When a new computer is installed, the first thing users say is, “it's so fast!” As they are used, applications are installed and removed, and they naturally become slower; Adware makes the situation much worse. Most computers that are “infected” with Adware aren't running just one instance of it; they have several, even hundreds of copies of Adware running at once. They start every time the computer boots up, and the user typically knows nothing about them. Each one uses some measure of bandwidth and resources; eventually, the computer will come crawling to a halt.

Number Three: Adware can make computers unstable and lead to downtime and data loss. A startling majority – at least 70% -- of computer performance problems can be traced back to Adware. Just one poorly designed Adware system can royally mess up an operating system, making the system unusable and creating hours of downtime and even lost data. Critical applications may crash or stop working entirely because of the effects of an Adware application. Making matters worse, Adware can be extremely hard to detect and uninstall, and removing it can make the system even more volatile; wiping the computer and starting over from scratch is often the best option.

Number Four: Adware can be detrimental to security. Many Adware applications are designed to circumvent firewall and security settings, forcing access to the system. Because Adware is designed for such a narrow purpose, keeping your data secure is not a concern. Many applications have been developed to exploit the holes created by Adware, and they are distributed over the internet for any “script-kiddie” to download and use. These malicious programs can provide access to your entire computer – quite possibly your entire network – all within the boundaries of the Adware.

Number Five: Adware is not illegal, but copyright infringement is. Corporations and Universities are being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for “allowing” computer users to download and share music files. In April of last year, Integrated Information Systems settled with the RIAA for one million dollars – not because they encouraged their employees to download music, but because they hadn't performed “due diligence” to stop them. Loyola University has recently been served with several subpoenas; they have already turned over names of students and faculty that are suspected of downloading and sharing music using peer-to-peer software. In fact, in only a one week period this month, RIAA has sent out over 850 subpoenas to companies such as Time Warner Cable, EarthLink, Comcast, Pacific Bell and Verizon, requesting the identities of individuals belonging to specific email and ip addresses. The names that they receive with be used to file lawsuits.

Adware is, essentially, a virus that we invite into our systems. These applications then work against us, installing and running more Adware applications, sharing personal information about us, targeting us for pop up advertising and spam emails, and even providing a gateway for malicious access to our computer systems. The negative side-effects of these applications are bad enough, but the recent actions by the RIAA make it even more imperative that companies take action.

About the Author
JB Snead is Senior Consultant and owner of JBS Consulting, an Austin based firm specializing in open-source consulting and support for business and government clients around the globe. JB can be contacted at or at 512.921.1375, or visit the website at (


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