Are friends, family and boyfriends the root of spyware infestations? Security researchers the world over have noticed a trend when it comes to spyware and virus infections–the Other Person Syndrome (OPS). 

 

Invariably, researchers who encounter a severely infested machine will notice that infection may not have necessarily come from the primary user. Instead, they come from a boyfriend, the babysitter, kids or a friend who “just used the computer for a bit”. 

 

The lesson here is obvious:  People bring their own bad habits into your computer and can wreak havoc.  

 

Of course, this is all anecdotal, but there’s a big fat grain of truth in there. A while back, I did some spyware de-infestations on a couple of neighbor’s systems.  One had a babysitter who would come over to sit their child, and the machine would start getting all funky with spyware.  Another had two teenage daughters, who were active on the ‘net (oh man, that was a bad infestation — really bad).  I believe that the kids and the sitter were responsible for the infestations.

 

Eric Howes, who gave me the idea for this blog entry, says more to support this position:

 

“I’ve cleaned a lot of my students’ PCs over the years. Most of them have been females. And every single one tells the same story: ‘My PC was running fine until my boyfriend visited this weekend. He used it for a few hours. And now my PC is deluged with porn pop-ups and something trying to dial out from my modem.’ It’s the same story every single time. And if the boyfriend happens to be under 25 years of age, you can be sure the PC is riddled with porn dialers.

 

He points out that “Caroline” is now telling that very story at BroadBandReports:  

The strange thing is, that for the past 3 years, I have not had a problem.  The occasional mydoom was getting stopped by norton antvirus and the odd thing popped up here or there. It has been in the past few months I keep getting problems.

 

It came to a head when I was on holiday and my boyfriend was using my PC – and he said he got 6 consecutive alerts of viruses coming through email.all got stopped apart from smitfraud. so when he could not eradicate it, he purchased Xoftspy and another program which he was told would get rid of it.

 

Since then, Norton rarely reports email alerts and NEVER reports anything on virus scans – I have always used liveupdate every day or so.

Now, We Know for A Fact That Men are Inherently Bad (an argument supported by empirical evidence).  But I think the problem is much larger than just men.  We see people getting infected in all kinds of places; you might find spyware on horoscope sites, lyric sites and wrestling sites.  Of course, playing on the dark edges of the internet (the two Ps — porn and piracy) certainly increase your chances of infecting your pristine machine, but there’s plenty of stuff out there for everyone—naughty or nice.  

 

What should you do apart from the normal type of security things?  Primary users on their computers should set up accounts with Restricted Access to avoid the dreaded OPS.  You as an administrator can control what’s installed, but when someone else wants to use your PC, put them on a Restricted Account.  Password protect your own Administrator account.

 

Heck, it IS your computer, after all.

 

Alex Eckelberry