I discuss a new effort to publicize spyware and its creators.
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One of the most difficult questions form me to answer is “how do I know if
this download is safe?” Common advice is to only download from reputable
companies, but the majority of computer users are simply not aware enough of
the industry to know what is or is not a reputable company. Even internet
searches on a company’s reputation … any company’s reputation … is likely
to turn up widely varying and contradictory opinions that the average computer
user simply cannot properly evaluate.
Aside from simply making sure that they run up-to-date virus and spyware
scans, what’s a poor user to do?
Enter “stopbadware.org”. The goal of this new project is to “…provide
reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to
help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their
computers.” The site continues, “We aim to become a central clearinghouse for
research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and to become a focal
point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping
With both Harvard Law School and Oxford University behind it, it’s an
interesting concept that could work. By providing a presumably objective
middleman, stopbadware.org has an opportunity to truly become an asset to the
There are two potential problems: one political, the other practical.
Stopbadware.org has yet to name names. If and when they do, will they have
the backbone to stand by their statements in the face of legal and perhaps
The other problem is simply that it relies on users being proactive. It
depends on users actively seeking out information about what they’re about to
download and install on their machines. In my experience here at Ask Leo!,
that’s a dangerous assumption. While some badware will, in fact, suffer from
the bad publicity, the fact is average users cannot resist the latest download
that promises something exciting – like the dancing bunnies I mentioned in a
It seems a promising part of a grander scheme to identify and shine the
light on malware, spyware and other malicious software creators, but I believe
it must go further and include other steps that users need not be aware of to
In the mean time, it’ll be interesting to watch the cockroaches scurry –
let’s hope the light is bright enough.
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