Back in September of 2012, I discussed online bait & switch with software downloads and how unwanted add-on’s – such as memory and cycle sucking toolbars – can find their way on to your system without your knowing it. I’ve coined a new term for this sort of stuff: Sneakware. In other words, crapware that sneaks its way on to your system when you’re trying to install a legitimate product.

I’ve observed a fine example of this in the wild and thought I’d show you what to watch out for. I’ve also run across an article that backs up what I’ve been saying even though they don’t call it “sneakware”. I’ll endeavour to keep all this brief and to the point.

For a number of years, I’ve used an add-on called File Menu Tools by a Spanish development house known as Lopesoft. It has come in quite handy for folks like Dr. Data who do a lot of different things with individual files and I’ve recommended it as a “must-have” more than once. The other day, it was time to install the latest version and I discovered – much to my dismay – that the developer has succumbed to the siren call of sneakware.

There’s a heck of a lot of free stuff on the web and developers will often seek to augment their income of donations by grateful users by including add-on’s with their installation package. Legitimate – and sometimes not so legitimate – entities will pay developers a certain amount to simply include this entity’s product in the developer’s installation package and then will pay the developer a specified amount of  money for each actual installation of the entity’s product. Usually, both payments are a trivial amount but if your software is downloaded & installed 3 million times, this trivial amount can really start to add up.

In the case of Lopesoft, here’s what I saw:

Lopesoft1 In this first screen-shot, the user is asked to install the Babylon Toolbar which supposedly gives you access to freebies, discounts, etc. You’ll notice that not only is the option to install the toolbar checked & greyed-out, but so are the options for making Babylon the default search engine and making Babylon search you homepage. Your eye is drawn to the usual mumbo-jumbo of the licence agreement and clicking “Agree” has become motor memory. You have no doubt learned over time that clicking the “Decline” button will cancel the installation of the whole thing and thus you are led to believe  that you have to click “Agree” here in order to get the software you originally wanted.

The simple answer is “No, you can “Decline and still get the original product but how many users will see through all this? Also notice that the “Agree” button has focus so all you have to do is press the “Enter” key. To “Decline”, you’ll need to move your mouse to that button & click it.

Lopesoft2 This is the next window that will be shown to you whether you “Accept” or “Decline”. Here, the verbage mentions Chrome, Google, etc. It also throws in “Amazon”. Add in the mumbo-jumbo and the average user will think they have to agree in order to get the software to work with Google, Chrome & Amazon.

As before, the “Agree” button has focus. Declining takes an extra effort.

There you have a perfect example of how the user thinks they’re getting a useful utility and are really getting a lot more than they asked for. Do this five or six times and you’ll wonder why your system isn’t as fast as it was.

While the mechanics and payment schemes may vary, this article from ZDNET explains it all very nicely. The price of a clean machine is eternal vigilance.

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