Brady Bunch and Adware
by Wayne Porter, Sr. Dir. Special Research
The Brady Bunch’s Computer…if they had one…
Here's the story of a lovely lady,
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, The youngest one in curls.
Here's the story, of a man named Brady,
Who was busy with three boys of his own.
They were four men, living all together, Yet they were all alone.
'Til the one day when the lady met this fellow,
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch.
But they had a problem- only one home computer
And now their panties are in quite a bunch.
Remember the Brady bunch from the 1970's sitcom? They were the model family. Saccharine to the point of nausea and perhaps lucky for them they didn’t own a family computer. In this article we take a walk along memory lane and imagine what could have happened if the Bradys did have a family PC.
Think this is far-fetched? It isn’t- we see this scenario played out day after day in shared computer households. So let’s take our flashback to the 1970s.
Mike comes home from his architect job and plops down a state-of-the-art Dell PC (not yet invented- but we can suspend disbelief). Mike and Carol figure this will be a great addition to the family household. It will let him work on his architecture plans, Carol can balance the budget, Alice can look up recipes and the kids can IM their friends and do research for school papers. The machine is pristine, it moves at blazing fast speeds and everyone is excited. At least for a while.
Cindy: Cindy is a young girl fascinated by having talking buddies on her desktop. What could be cuter than a talking gorilla on her desktop? "Oh, this is so cool." She is presented with a long EULA but since it is well over her reading level she clicks okay and gets her talking companion. She doesn't have any friends anyway so a talking buddy is just what she needs. Groovy!
Jan: Jan, always jealous of Marsha, wants to upgrade her e-mail with talking emoticons and cool smileys. “Ha!" Thinks Jan. "Let Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, top my e-mail.” She too is presented with a lengthy and legalese-laden EULA and in her excitement she clicks okay. Not that it would have mattered. She is in high school and has no real idea what all that legal mumbo jumbo means because it is written on a college level. She does get her cool e-mail add-ons though...and other "helper programs".
Marsha: Marsha is into art. She especially likes neat screen savers and has found a number of cool screen saver downloads all for free! She turns on her lava lamp and enjoys the peaceful waterfalls as they illuminate the den. What a great atmosphere to do her homework in. She gets a few pop-ups but nothing she can’t handle. Marsha also loves fashion sites. The one site asks her to install a plug-in and she clicks NO because Marsha is a bit on the paranoid side. The software installs anyway but since it didn’t appear to download a virus it must be okay.
Peter: Peter is into music. He loves to swap files with his friends and downloads the latest P2P application so he can swap the Doobie Brothers, Bread, and songs from the Partridge Family. (We bear no responsibility for his taste.) "Man, this is far-out," he thinks. "I can get all the music I want for free!" He notes the pop-ups have started coming more frequently and the machine is a bit sluggish but he doesn't know anything about computers and figures this is how the Internet works. What can you expect from a kid?
Bobby: Bobby has discovered the great world of online gaming but he also likes pro wresting. He stops off at his favorite site and an ad pops telling him he must make an important security upgrade. "Gosh, I better do that," he thinks. What he doesn't realize is this is a deceptive ad designed to land even more "adware" on his system.
Greg: Greg is at that uncertain age where surfing a few adult sites behind the parents' back can be a rush. Greg is just curious like many teens. Greg inadvertently lands a pornographic dialer on his system. Of course they won't find out until the phone bill arrives and neither will Greg, but we bet his allowance might be in jeopardy.
Mike: Mike is unaware that through Peter's file trading he has downloaded a nasty Trojan horse on their home system. He completes his latest house design for a client which the hacker grabs and posts on a trading site, along with Mike's credit numbers which will be brokered through "The Scene" along with thousands of other credit card numbers. Mike is still perplexed why he can't seem to reach Google which he keeps hearing about on the news. The kids must have changed something but he really doesn¹t know how to change it back. He wish it had channels like the T.V.
Carol: Being the community activist she wants to raise funds for her favorite charity so she signs up for a service that will "kick-back" some of the money she spends to her favorite charity. She is fine with that and even reads the EULA. She notices their machine has started running even slower but that's okay. She is raising money for charity. She is also a bit suspicious about Mike returning home late so often so she installs a keylogger application just to keep up on what everyone is doing- even the kids. She doesn¹t want them to fall prey to predators. It even has remote control capabilities! What she doesn't know is the keylogger is flawed technically and can allow dedicated hackers to break into the Brady's system. She also spends time chatting with friends on chatrooms who ask her to click on ads to help with raising funds. This is great, but she doesn't realize the IM persona is a hacker sending her to pay-per-click sites and eventually a phishing site where her credit card details wind up on the market- right next to Mike's.
Alice: "Drat these confounded pop-ups. They are making it impossible for me to get to that ham-broccoli casserole site," thinks Alice the housekeeper. Alice, having no technical acumen whatsoever, buys an anti-spyware tool from the first vendor she sees. Naturally this vendor was served up from a pop-up that was spawned by one of the adware programs that was installed earlier. Next she is told she might have a virus. "Oh dear," she thinks, "What have I done?" She quickly purchases an anti-virus tool to fix that problem too. After all, it was certified by ICSE Labs so it must come from a reliable and trusted source. She also stocks up on anti-septic cleanser to spray all over the PC- she isn't sure if it is biological virus or some other type but better safe than sorry and being a cook by the book- she wants it clean.
In less than a week the shiny new PC the Bradys purchased runs like molasses dripping down a tree. Even the pop-up blockers they bought (from pop-ups) can't handle the situation. They can¹t get to their favorite home page. Pop-ups continue to plague them and some are pornographic which makes Carol even more paranoid about Mike causing matiral distress. Greg is grounded when the phone bill arrives at the end of the month sporting hundreds of dollars of international phone calls for images that send Alice into spasms and later treatment. The PC begins to gather dust and the Bradys go back to their lives before the PC. The new personal computer, despite all its potential power, is now merely a piece of dusty metal in the den. Full of pornographic material, keyloggers, trojan horses, smileys, icons, talking monkeys and screen savers loaded up with lots of toolbars. Mike still can't find Google and figures it has something to do with a strange totem they picked up in Hawaii.
Mike does some research into the programs installed and learns many of them claim they are designed to keep "the Internet free". It is no wonder Mike Brady thinks all of these programs are spyware. He had no idea they were installed on his system.
It is a good thing Mike has the fundamental right to scan his PC and make informed decisions on what he wants on his computer- because it is his computer, his property, and his domain- not the domain of anyone else. He runs an audit with a number of different anti-spyware programs and makes the conscious decision to remove these applications from his computer. After all, it is HIS computer.
Spyware is in the eye of the beholder. EULAs or not, which can easily be bypassed by a number of tricks, the cumulative effect of these programs on a PC will impact resources and in worst case scenarios this aggregate effect can turn people away from the Internet. Not to mention the financial damage, trust damage, and poor Greg- who is still in the outhouse.
Editor's Note: EULA stands for End User License Agreement. A legal agreement a user accepts before installing software.
Special thanks to E.A. for proofing this article. For more info on EULAs visit our EULA ANALYZER from Facetime providing regulatory compliance solutions for enteprises.
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