What I found lurking on my laptop

You are being watched

Despite the EU, spyware, malware and secret cookies are thriving.

A couple of weeks ago my laptop imploded.

For the second time in the last ten years, a hard drive had quit. The first was an IBM hard drive at the centre of a Dell laptop. The second was a Fujitsu in a Toshiba. I’ve kept both of the failed drives and use them as paperweights. They stop the paper getting blown around the place.

I took the wreck of my laptop to Computer Precision and handed it over to the genial and brainy Sunil in the murky depths of the workshop. Three days later, it was back in my hands, a new hard drive in place, with most of the data and links in working order.

Nonetheless, I checked.

All the programs I expected to find were there, but there were also some surprises. What were Yontoo, Snap.Do and WinPcap doing in my installed files? And what were they doing?

Yontoo is ad-ware. Snap.Do is malware which takes over your browser’s toolbar. WinPcap tracks your web behaviour. All three of these had eluded Norton.

I cleared them all, and then bought an American spy hunting program called SpyHunter. Once I’d got the program running, it found several hundred tracking cookies and other stuff which I had not authorised. The EU takes a very dim view of this, and rightly so. It’s not their data.

The Cookie Collective summarises it thus: “On May 26th 2011 a new EU originated law came into effect that requires website owners to make significant changes to their sites, and may fundamentally change the whole web browsing and shopping experience for everybody. This Cookie Law is amended privacy legislation that requires websites to obtain informed consent from visitors before they can store or retrieve any information on a computer or any other web connected device.”

I then looked further.

SpyHunter provided me with a list of  spyware which was tracking my online behaviour. I list them below:

ad.yieldmanager.com, adserver, Adtech, Advent, Atlas DMT, Atwola, DoubleClick, Gator, Media, Mediaplex, Qksru, QuestionMarket, Saving-sys, Sex, Toolbar.Funmoods, TribalFusion, WebtrendsLive

Most of these are tracking cookies, but Funmoods is not. It had that day replaced Firefox as my browser, and had wormed its way into my installed programs. I can’t currently get rid of AOL on my toolbar, either. Other cookies are from media agencies watching your online behaviour so that they can match your browsing choices with clients who’d like to sell to you.

I’m going to take some action about this, and will tell you how I get on.

In the meantime, check your installed programs, don’t download free software and don’t trust what the websites say about not installing other programs if you click No in the acceptance box.

Finally, get some spyware protection now. Norton didn’t pick up the intrusions I had. Specialised software for downloading costs about £25, and is a good investment, especially if you do not have access to an IT department.

Finally, if you want to track the sources of the cookies that you might find on your own laptop, try Google’s mind-blowing Collusion. The numbers are big.

If you have an opinion about malware, spyware and cookies, please comment on this blog.