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Oxford and Harvard recruited to combat spyware

By Steve Malone

Posted on 26 Jan 2006 at 10:24

In a bid to stem the rising tide of adware on computers, two leading academic institutions have been commissioned to research the problem and how it can be solved.

Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in the US and Oxford Internet Institute have been given 'seven figure funding' by a number of high tech companies including Sun Microsystems, Google and Lenovo and have joined together as the Stop Badware Coalition.

Over the past few years spyware has moved up the security agenda as one of the biggest threats to computer users. Unlike worms or viruses which travel by email, spyware or adware is often downloaded as a piece of 'free' software or secretly installed when a user clicks on a link. Examples of adware can vary from the merely annoying pop ups and browser hijacking to malicious software which can monitor keystrokes or seek out personal information on a computer and transmit it secretly to a third party.

As an initial step, a web site has been set up to become a central clearinghouse for research into adware. styles itself as a "Neighbourhood Watch" campaign aimed at fighting 'badware'. It promises to provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help PC users to make better choices about what they download onto their computers.

The purpose of the site is to collect data from users who have been affected by 'badware' that can include Adware, Spyware or any other nasties that may have settled themselves on your computer to give you a hard time. The submission of anecdotal data can either be fairly basic or technical. Once the data has been collected, it will be disseminated to people on its mailing list to warn them against particular types of badware and the methods used to distribute it.

In the medium term, the organisation will try and define what badware actually is. For example, the moment there is some confusion as to whether tracking cookies used by many sites constitute spyware. It also promises to name and shame sites which carry spyware.

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