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2.4. Other Categories

Some other categories of commonly encountered Internet pests are not necessarily malicious in their primary intent. However, they can be a nuisance to end users; therefore, antivirus and antispam products have been created to detect and remove such annoying burdens from computers.

2.4.1. Joke Programs

Joke programs are not malicious; however, as Alan Solomon (author of one of the most widely used scanning engines today) once mentioned, "Whether a program should be classified as a joke program or as a Trojan largely depends on the sense of humor of the victim." Joke programs change or interrupt the normal behavior of your computer, creating a general distraction or nuisance. Colleagues often make fun of each other by installing a joke program or by tricking others to run one on their systems. A typical example of a joke program is a screen saver that randomly locks the system.

However, such programs can be considered harmful in some cases. Consider, for example, a joke program that locks the system but never unlocks it. Thus, computers cannot be stopped safely. As a result, important data could be lost because it was never saved to the disk. Or worse, the file allocation table could get corrupted, and the machine would become unbootable.

2.4.2. Hoaxes: Chain Letters

On computers, hoaxes typically spread information about computer virus infections and ask the recipient of the message to forward it to others. One of the most infamous hoaxes was the Good Times hoax. Good Times appeared in 1994 and warned users about a potential new kind of virus that would arrive in e-mail. The hoax claimed that reading a message with "Good Times" in the subject line would erase data from the hard disk. Although many believed at the time that such an e-mail based virus was a hoax, the reality is that such a payload might be possible. Hoaxes typically mix some reality with lies. Good Times claimed that a particular virus existed, which was simply not true.

End users then spread the e-mail hoax to new people, "replicating" the message on the Internet by themselves and overloading e-mail systems with the hoax. At larger corporations, policies must be implemented to avoid the spread of hoaxes on local systems.

In the past, a typical hoax circulating at large corporations tried to deceive people into believing an untrue story about a very sick child, attempting to collect money for the child's medical procedure. Most people were sympathetic and did not recognize the danger of forwarding the e-mail message in this case; they trusted the source and believed the fabricated story.

With company policies intact, the problems that such hoaxes create can be effectively eliminated. However, hoaxes are considered one of the most successful Internet threats every year; take for example, the new chain letters that surface and rapidly spread around the world.

2.4.3. Other Pests: Adware and Spyware

A new type of application has appeared recently as a direct result of increased residential Internet access. Many companies are interested in what people look for or research on the Web, especially what kinds of products consumers might buy. Therefore, some consumer retail businesses install little applications to collect information and display customized advertisements in pop-up messages.

The most obvious problem with this type of application is that such applications were not written with malicious intent. In fact, many programmers make a living out of writing such tools. However, many of these Internet pests get installed on a system without the user's permission or knowledge, raising questions about privacy. Not surprisingly, corporations as well as home users dislike this type of program, referred to as spyware, which collects various information of user activity and then sends these data to a company via the Internet. Home users are undoubtedly disturbed by this invasive activity, not to mention the frustration that users feel in response to pop-ups.

In addition, these programs are often very poorly written and are resource hogs, particularly when two or more become installed on the same machine. Many also have the highly undesirable habit of lowering Internet Explorer's already deplorable security settings to unconscionable levels, opening the (usually unwitting) "victim" up to even worse exploits and infections14.

Because these applications are often a major source of business for organizations driven by consumer revenue, such businesses prefer that antivirus products not detect such programs at all, or at least not by default. Often such companies bring lawsuits against vendors who produce software to detect and remove their "applications." Such litigation makes the fight against this kind of pest much more difficult.

It is expected, however, that such programs will be illegal to create in several countries in the future. To make things even more interesting, some corporations prefer to remove "unwanted" spyware but want to keep the few "tools" that they use to monitor their employees on a regular basis.

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