A couple of people forwarded me this interview, and if you have not read it, it is really worth your time. It’s an amazing interview with Matt Knox, a developer with Direct Revenue who authored adware during his employ with them. For me this is important as it highlights stuff I figured was going on but really could not prove. It also exposes much of the thought process behind the developers at Micosoft, and it completely altered my behavior for ’sanitizing’ my PC’s. For me, this all started a few years ago (2005?) when my Windows laptop was infected with this stuff. I discovered something was going on because there was ongoing activity in the background when the machine was idle and started to affect machine responsiveness.

The mysterious performance degradation was difficult to find as I could not locate a specific application responsible, and the process monitors provided with Windows are wholly inadequate. I found that there were processes running in the background unassociated with any application, and unassociated with Windows. I did find files that were associated with these processes, and it was clear they did not belong on the machine. When I went to delete them, they popped up again within minutes- with new names! I was able to find multiple registry entries, and the behavior suggested that multiple pieces of code monitored each other for health and availability, and fixed each other if one was deleted. Even if I booted in safe mode I had no confidence that I could completely remove this … whatever it was … from the machine. At that point in time I knew I needed to start over.

How this type of software could have gotten into the registry and installed itself in such a manner was perplexing to me. Being a former OS developer, I started digging, and that’s when I got mad. Mr. Knox uses the word ‘promiscuous’ to describe the OS calls, and that was exactly what it was. There were API calls to do pretty much anything you wanted to do, all without so much as a question being asked of the user or of the installing party. You get a clear picture of the mentality of the developers who wrote the IE and Windows OS code back then- there were all sorts of nifty ways to ‘do stuff’, for anyone who wanted to, and not a shred of a hint of security. All of these ‘features’ were for someone else’s benefit! They could use my resources at will- as if they had the keys to my house, and when I left, they were throwing a giant party at my expense. What really fried me was that, while I could see these processes and registry entries, none of the anti-virus or anti-malware tools would detect them. So if I wanted to secure my machine, it was up to me to do it.

So I said this changed my behavior. Here’s how:

  • Formatted the disk and reinstalled the OS
  • Switched to Firefox full time. A few months later I discovered Flashblock and NoScript.
  • I stopped paying for desktop anti-virus and used free stuff or nothing at all. It didn’t work for the desktop, and email AV addressed my real concern.
  • I found a process monitor that gave me detailed information on what was running and what resources were being used.
  • I cateloged every process on the Windows machine, and kept a file that described each process’ function so I could cross-check and remove stuff that was not supposed to be there.
  • I began manually starting everything (non-core) through the services panel if I needed it. Not only did this help me detect stuff that should not be running, it reduced risks associated with poorly secured applications that leave services sitting wide open on a port.
  • Uninstalled WebEx, RealPlayer, and several other suspects after using.
  • I kept all of my original software nearby and planned to re-install, from CD or DVD, fresh every year. Until I got VMware.
  • I used a virtual partition for risky browsing whenever possible.

I now use a Mac, and run my old licensed copies of Windows in Parallels. Surprised?

Here is the week’s security summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences:

Favorite Securosis Posts:

Favorite Outside Posts:



Top News and Posts:

Blog Comment of the Week:

Good comment from Jack Pepper on “PCI isn’t meant to protect cardholder …” post:

“Why is this surprising? the PCI standard was developed by the card industry to be a “bare minimum” standard for card processing. If anyone in the biz thinks PCI is more that “the bare minimum standard for card processing”, they are mistaken. I tell people that PCI compliance is like a high school diploma: if you don’t have one, people suspect you’re an idiot. If you do have one, no one is impressed.”

Dead on target. Until next week…