Saturday, May 22, 2010

New risk threatens Internet cafe denizens: research

SAN FRANCISCO — Canadian university researchers on Friday warned of a new strain of advertising software that can sneak onto laptop computers linked to wireless networks at Internet cafes.

University of Calgary computer science researchers have branded the potentially infectious ad software "Typhoid adware" for its ability to spread in public through unsuspecting laptop users.

"We're looking at a different variant of adware which we haven't seen out there yet but we believe could be a threat soon," said associate professor John Aycock, who co-authored a Typhoid research paper.

Adware is software typically sneaked onto people's computers when they download booby-trapped files such as screen savers or browser tool bars.

Once on machines, the programs barrage users with pop-up advertisements.

"Typhoid adware is designed for public places where people bring their laptops," says Aycock. "It's far more covert, displaying advertisements on computers that don't have the adware installed, not the ones that do."

A "carrier" laptop infected with Typhoid inserts advertisements in videos or Web pages on other computers using hotspots, according to the research.

"Not only are ads annoying but they can also advertise rogue antivirus software that's harmful to your computer, so ads are in some sense the tip of the iceberg," Aycock said.

Rogue antivirus software is used to con people into paying to fix computer problems that don't exist, steal identity information, and infect machines with malicious programs.

Internet cafe Web surfers can protect themselves by making certain online videos being watched are from the original sources and adjusting computer settings to be more wary of contact from other computers, researchers said.

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