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Anomalous software

Apr 19, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalware

After my Backspin column last week on anomalous things, reader Chris Boucher suggested that the message “An unexpected error has occurred” produced by Word should be translated as: “I got tired of writing exception handlers. I really tried to figure out all the things that could go wrong with this code (and got most of them!) but had to get some sleep sometime, so put this little kludge in for the rest. Sorry that it means that you lost your work just because we had to get the code out the door before it could be completely debugged.”

Reader Joanne Bandlow wrote, “The funniest error message I’ve run across was during boot-up: ‘Error: Keyboard not present. Press F1 to continue.'”

Yet another reader, Mike Palombo, sent in one of his favorites: “The Data is the Error.” He noted that “it sounds like something you would be told by a guru after climbing a tall mountain and asking about the true meaning of IT life.”

Here’s another anomalous message: “Vx2 benefits consumers by working with advertisement serving partners to subsidize various software products and services that are free to you, the consumer.”

But you have to read the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) to understand what is really going to happen: “These Terms and Conditions apply to both (1) the vx2.dll, which primarily serves ‘popup’ and ‘popunder’ ads, and (2) the related interest profiling application, which primarily gauges users’ broadly defined interest categories.”

The agreement continues: “Vx2 may enhance or upgrade these applications from time to time. Unless we tell you otherwise, any new products or services we provide or distribute, whether through our own or third-party Web sites or servers, also will be subject to these terms and conditions. Vx2 may amend this agreement at any time without notice and such modifications shall be deemed effective immediately upon posting the changes on the site.”

In other words, once you install vx2, the publisher, vx2 Corp., reserves the right to do whatever it pleases to your PC and makes it quite clear that it accepts no liability for any problems.

As the EULA is 22 pages, it is a certainty that 99.9% of users never read it so they also don’t read that “Vx2’s software also uses artificial intelligence to discern and collect name and address information from online forms that you fill out. We use this information to allow our partners to reach you with personalized and targeted offers and advertisements that are relevant to your interests.We may also contact you directly ourselves with such offers.”

Now you might not have come across the vx2 software yet. Even though it has been around since early 2002, it has only recently started to appear in significant numbers. I heard about it from Ed English, CEO of InterMute, which publishes, among other products, a spyware removal utility called SpySubtract.

Vx2 is an example of both spyware – software that gets installed along with another application and is designed to report back to the publisher with data on a user’s browsing habits – and adware, which tracks user information to display advertisements that are supposedly relevant to the user. (Note that spyware is often used to connote both types of software.)

The problem with this whole subclass of malware is that unless you run a really tight network, your users have, I guarantee, managed to get spyware installed, and it will screw things up. It might well reveal confidential information, and it will certainly create reliability and stability problems and degrade performance.

My friends, this is an anomalous condition that we’re going to look at in depth next week because it is already costing you money. Lots of it.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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