Friday, 13 October 2000

Newsletter Issue 13, October 2000

Sam Young Newsletter

Issue 13, October 2000
Hi guys,
I hope that you all had a fantastic labour weekend. Great without the rain, wasn't it! 
In this issue I am looking at spyware. This was an area that I was very unfamiliar with until a good friend over the Tassie sent me a piece of software for detecting PC spyware. So I ran it. Then I got interested - FAST; I found 13 files on my system. What I have learned from my digging since is encapsulated for you guys. Check out Spying out Spyware below.
TLAs for SMEs        Short & Hot Keys        Hot Linx
Don't forget, if you want to be taken off my mailing list, click here to send me a reply e-mail and I will remove your name.

Spying out Spyware

Computer Spyware is everywhere... and you don't even know that you have it. Big Software companies send it out. Ad Agencies send it out. You leave cookies behind everywhere you go on the net. Sign up with some sites and they install software on your PC without you knowing it. Sign up for one piece of software and get some add-ons and functionality that you knew nothing about.

Why? So that they can get information on consumer behaviour; your browsing, searching, viewing and purchasing habits. Your PC sends them information on where you have been on the net, how long you were there, what links you clicked, what banner ads you read and what you buy. This builds a consumer profile that marketing people pay profilers dearly for.

The more information that the profilers can get, the more effective and targetted their client's advertising can be. Maybe that's not a terrible thing. However, I hold some pretty old-fashioned ideas; like "its polite to ask first". This software functions are not a problem if you knowingly install them. But I feel annoyed when someone else decides for me that I want this... and when I don't even know that it is there on my machine.

The companies who use this spyware say that they do let us know. They have online "privacy statements", with similar cop-out phrasing (do you read the privacy statements on the sites that you visit?). They state that "no personally identifiable information" is being collected. Nonetheless, profilers are profiting from us without our INFORMED consent. Well, is that so bad?

Ahh. BUT. It has been shown that the "no personally identifiable information" is, in many cases, completely untrue. The news media has carried many stories about the following;

  • Real Networks who were reportedly caught red handed, secretly profiling their users listening habits
  • Aureate/Radiate and Conducent Technologies whose advertising, monitoring, and profiling software sneaks into our machines without our knowledge or permission
  • Comet Cursor which secretly tracks our web browsing (this is the one that I had - and I know not where from)
  • GoHip who hijacks our web browser and alters our eMail signatures
  • Smartdownload from Netscape/AOL where details of your downloads are kept. A class action is being instigated against Netscape which you can join at

When confronted, these companies usually fall back to the "read the fine print, what we're doing is spelled out there and the user agreed" stance. 

Now, don't you think that's odd? If the users (ie, me!) understood and agreed, why those users (ie, me!) so surprised when they find out that information is being stolen from them?

It all goes back to the "its polite to ask first" (my Mother's words keep coming back all the time!). 

So, how does it work? It uses your Internet connection (your "backchannel") silently, while you are on the net from software downloaded from the profiler's site when you were there. Download some freeware or shareware and you could be hosting a spy.

However, do not despair! There are some slick dudes out there who have built some excellent software packages to run search and destroy missions on spyware. Check out either of the two following programmes (tried both - both work well): 

And don't be afraid of spies; just be aware.

TLAs for SMEs

Here are this newsletter's TLAs for you;

  • FAT, File Allocation Table. One of several file systems and the most popular amongst DOS and windows users.It stores information about all the files in a dedicated region of the hard drove. There can be as many as 64 FAT's on a single hard drive
  • FiDO, Framework for Interdisciplinary Design Optimization. A general programming environment for automating the distribution of complex computing tasks over a networked system of heterogeneous computers
  • ADC, Analog-to-Digtal Converter. The conversion of data or signal storage from analog format, like the continous electrical vibrations triggered by a voice on a phone, to the on-off digital format of computer code
  • AFK, Away From Keyboard. A shorthand appended to a comment written in an online forum
  • API, Application Programming Interface. An API is a series of functions that programs can use to make the operating system do their dirty work. Using Windows APIs, for example, a program can open windows, files, and message boxes as well as perform more complicated tasks by passing a single instruction. Windows has several classes of APIs that deal with telephony, messaging, and other issues
  • CGI, Common Gateway Interface. A set of rules that describe how a Web Server communicates with another piece of software on the same machine, and how the other piece of software (the “CGI program”) talks to the web server. Any piece of software can be a CGI program if it handles input and output according to the CGI standard. Usually a CGI program is a small program that takes data from a web server and does something with it, like putting the content of a form into an e-mail message, or turning the data into a database query. You can often see that a CGI program is being used by seeing “cgi-bin” in a URL, but not always

Please feel free to email me with any TLAs that you want to get the bottom (meaning!) of. 

Short & Hot Keys... and now tips
This time we have some easy shortcuts for formatting in MS Word using the control key and...;

  • Shrink Font One Point Ctrl & [ 
  • Grow Font One Point Ctrl & ] 
  • Start of Document Ctrl & Home 
  • Enter the date Ctrl & ; (semicolon) 
  • Insert Page Break Ctrl & Return 
  • Select All Ctrl & Num 5
Hot Linx
Need to get hold of a Government department but you can't stand the phone or flesh queues? Check out

Want to view a copy of an Act on line? Go to

Feeling a bit fazed about the proposed Human Rights amendments? Try

Can't remember the name of that song? Can't remember who sang it? Try

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