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Spy ware from Physics Forums!

  1. Feb 20, 2004 #1

    GENIERE

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    It seems “Physics Forums” is a source for Spyware, specifically “Avenue A”

    Avenue A collects data for analysis and targeted e-mail via cookies and clickstream data. This includes data from on line sales transactions and loan applications.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2004 #2
    Who clicks on those ads, anyway? I trust Physics Forums itself.
     
  4. Feb 21, 2004 #3
    Cookies are not spyware
     
  5. Feb 21, 2004 #4

    Monique

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    Aren't those ads there to be clicked? No click = no money.
     
  6. Feb 21, 2004 #5

    GENIERE

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    Greg – Cookies are indeed used to track a user’s habits and to extract personal information. The first link is to the Avenue A site re: their policy statement which provides the information copied below it. The second link is to the Atlas site referred to, and the relevant paragraph from their privacy statement. As you will note in the Atlas policy, it is not necessary to “click on the advertisement”, it simply needs to be viewed!

    http://www.avenuea.com/privacy/

    AVENUE A privacy statement:

    Last updated March 24, 2003
    Avenue A and its parent company aQuantive, Inc. (formerly Avenue A Inc.) considers Internet user privacy to be of paramount importance. Avenue A utilizes technology provided by the Atlas™ Digital Marketing Suite for planning, serving, analyzing, managing online campaigns and setting Atlas DMT cookies. For more information about the use of cookies, web beacons, and opting out of Atlas DMT cookies please click here to review the Atlas DMT privacy policy.

    http://www.atlasdmt.com/privacy/general.asp

    Privacy and Data security statement from the Atlas site:

    Our Use of Cookies
    To improve the success of marketing campaigns, Atlas DMT uses a common Internet technology called "cookies." Cookies are tiny packets of information that we generate and store on people's computers “when the computer browser views one of our client's advertisements. Cookies are associated with a specific computer and a specific Internet browser program (i.e., Netscape Navigator/Communicator or Internet Explorer). You can think of a cookie as a sign that says, "This computer browser was here". It tells us the computer's browser has at some point viewed one of our client's advertisements. The cookie does not include your name, address, phone number, email address, or anything that identifies you. (Me - Do you believe that?) It's an anonymous number that we assign to that Internet browser and computer just to tell us we've seen this browser at a site where one of our clients advertises. We assign a cookie to every user who visits a website where an Atlas DMT banner is displayed and where our web beacons (see discussion below) are placed. Many web companies use cookies to help tailor web pages to the user's unique needs and interests, based on either a user's past actions when visiting a website, or based on ways a user has chosen to customize the website. Atlas DMT uses cookies solely to track advertising effectiveness and to select the best ads to serve. One example of this is measuring how often an anonymous user sees an ad; among other things this helps us ensure that the user is not shown the same ad over and over again.

    A class action lawsuit against Avenue A failed, not because of it’s merits, but because it did not meet the $5000.00 minimum damage threshold.

    If “Avenue A” cookies are installed and you complete an on-line transaction for a loan, or a purchase, that data is collected and transmitted back to them. You rely entirely on the ethics of the company as to its potential use.

    The shareware program “Spybot” can be used to filter out the sneak attack of Avenue A and other similar spy ware pests.[
     
  7. Feb 21, 2004 #6
    If I could be assured that my privacy (including the identity of my computer) is protected from the advertisers, I might actually explore them. I have been conditioned into paranoia by constantly being spammed. Some of the ads on PF do seem superior, even intriguing, compared to generic spiel, though.
     
  8. Feb 21, 2004 #7

    GENIERE

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    I forgot to say that I am, in no way, attacking this forum or Greg whom I admire.
     
  9. Feb 21, 2004 #8

    dduardo

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    GENIERE, here is a solution: Turn off Cookies or get prompted to accept them.

    Tools->Internet Options->Privacy->Advanced

    click Override automatic cookie handling
    Then click block for both first-party and third-party cookies.
     
  10. Feb 21, 2004 #9

    GENIERE

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    Dduardo - Thanks, but I am aware of several means to protect my PC, I was trying to alert others who may not.
     
  11. Feb 21, 2004 #10
    If you turn them off then you can't login to PF :)

    GENIERE, there is absolutely no reason to be afraid of cookies. They are used to track visitors on nearly 99% of large websites. It's a standard marketing tool. The only thing websites can track using cookies is your IP, Operating System, Browser Type and meaningless things like that. I really don't get what the big deal is. PF records all that stuff too.

    The reason ad networks use them is to track who has clicked on their ads. This is important because it stops people from abusing the network and clicking a hundred times to get more money.

    Again, what is the big deal. Look in your cookies directory for your browser and you'll see hundreds, possibly thousands of cookies. None however are harmful.

    Read this: http://www.agd.org/about/cookies.html
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2004
  12. Feb 21, 2004 #11

    GENIERE

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    Greg – Let me be more precise in point I was trying to make.

    I browse often enough that I tend to ignore pop up ads. I was surprised to note registry changes indicative of a “tracking cookie”. I traced the source to my previous Physics Forum session.

    Cookies are necessary and in most cases are benign. They really make the Internet experience possible by generating income to allow many sites to exist. Without cookies, browsing would also be slower, having to regenerate each page when viewed. I have no problem with cookies; I know how to handle them.

    Browsers should be aware that malign cookies exist and should take care.

    Further, I encourage you to have advertisements, which can help support this site financially, cookies or not. I also hope eventually it will provide a very good income for you; you deserve it.

    I intentionally allowed the Avenue A cookie. I found it generated at least 6 registry changes on my PC. I also note that Physics forums made at least 2 registry changes.

    Simply erasing a cookie does nothing to remove registry changes that persist in doing their thing afterwards. While I am perfectly content to have the privilege of a Physics Forums cookie, I’m not so content with some others.


    I suppose I should have included above in my first message.
     
  13. Feb 21, 2004 #12

    Nereid

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    How do you find registry changes in your PC?

    How can you tell what a particular change in your PC's registry means (in terms of your PC now doing things you weren't aware of, or didn't want it to do)?

    How can you tell a malign cookie from a harmless one?
     
  14. Feb 21, 2004 #13

    chroot

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    How on earth is a COOKIE modifying the REGISTRY? Give me a break.

    - Warren
     
  15. Feb 21, 2004 #14

    dduardo

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    Well, with microsoft products you never know.
     
  16. Feb 21, 2004 #15

    GENIERE

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    Nereid –
    It’s difficult. If you want, run “regedit” – edit –find - enter “Avenue A”. This will find some of the entries generated by the Avenue A cookies, but only those conveniently having “Avenue A” in the wording, other Avenue A entries use “amtd”. I know of no easy manual way to find and delete the unwanted items. The best way is not to permit the cookie in the first place. As Greg states, you cannot use your browser setting to do it, as then you will not be able to access many sites. More below.
    and
    Usually you can’t. A benign cookie, as most are, will have no noticeable effect. You will not notice Avenue A doing its thing, only you can decide if it's OK by you. An example of what I consider a malign cookie is the type that redirect your browser to a different web page. For instance if your home page is “Physics Forums”, there are cookies that redirect you to a different site, and some actually change your default home page. I had one, the name I can't recall, that did alter my home page. I found it installed “iefeatures” in many registry locations, which I had to delete to regain control. If your computer seems to run slower, a possible cause is due to a cookie. I would expect that since Greg has added ads to the website, we all should expect to get more E-mail for college texts, science magazines, astronomy sites and the like. Most of us will probably wellcome it.

    I routinely use the following software to try to keep my computer clean:
    PowerTools, SpyBot, Smartcleaner. After which I run the Winxp disc cleaner and defragment. It takes about a half-hour on my 2ghz system. Oh – you can use SpyBot to prevent the cookie from installing the nasty stuff; keep spy bot updated. Don't confuse spyware with a virus as the first is legal the second is not. Virus scanning software will not pick up malign cookies as they are not programmed to do so. I don't use anti-virus software as I use a router which provides some protection, my bios is set to not allow boot sector changes, and I am meticulous in preserving a clean back-up for important stuff.

    I occasionally restore my registry to the date of a last known good registry. Be careful if you do this as any software that was installed after that date will no longer function. I always restore first, than add the new software, than the new registry becomes the last known good registry. Did that make sense?
     
  17. Feb 22, 2004 #16
    There is no way for a cookie to edit the registry. I don't doubt you have come across some spyware, but it is not from clicking the banners nor from internet cookies.
     
  18. Feb 22, 2004 #17

    GENIERE

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    Greg – I ran “regedit” on my PC, and did a find for “forums”. There were several entries from other forums I visit, as well as the root and key entry copied below. I highlighted part of the key entry. There were three other "Physicsforums" entries.

    Root:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE

    Key:

    Software\Microsoft\Protected Storage System Provider\steve\Data\e161255a-37c3-11d2-bcaa-00c04fd929db\e161255a-37c3-11d2-bcaa-00c04fd929db\http://wwwwww.physicsforums.com/newrepl.php:stringindex

    ????
     
  19. Feb 22, 2004 #18
    What makes you think a cookie did this? Cookies are text files, pure and simple. There are many ways for URLs to get inot your registry. The most common is the browers itself will store URLs you visit in many locations for various reasons. This is especially common with IE on Windows. This is not related to cookies or spyware.
     
  20. Feb 23, 2004 #19

    GENIERE

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    Greg – You’re absolutely correct and forcing me to educate myself, which is becoming more difficult as I grow older. I had thought that the registry entries were “persistent cookies”. I now know that the registry entries were likely created via Active X. Persistent cookies merely have a long expiration time and cannot alter the registry.

    It seems browsing is only as safe as a site allows it to be. Active X can be removed, but then its benefits are lost. Even then, I suppose there are other means to access the client computor without the user knowing.

    Regards
     
  21. Feb 23, 2004 #20
    GENIERE, no problem, I just wanted to make sure everyone here knows that I'd never stoop to a level that would have PF install spyware or do other malious activities. btw, I would turn off ActiveX, it is rarely useful and more dangerous than helpful. Just for the information, the registry is basicly text files too, but a website would have absolutely no way of editing it with the use of cookies. If you have updated anti-virus, firewall and spyware protection you should be quite safe from 99% of dangers.
     
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