Malicious Intent?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2008-03-21 Print this article Print


TRUSTe's director of marketing told me that nothing in Coupons' behavior indicated malicious intent. I guess I look at things differently. After a few years in the security business, when I see companies putting misleadingly named program files and data on the system, I tend to lose trust in them. I still haven't heard from Coupons about why it needs to install hidden program files with misleading names in the Windows System directory, a practice long known by even newbie programmers to be bad practice.

Another thing TRUSTe doesn't say in its blog is that Stottlemire has a history with Coupons. The company has been suing him for months now. Pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and state laws, Coupons has been trying to get a court to compel Stottlemire to stop revealing details of how its software works, including instructions on how to completely remove it from one's computer. Click here for Stottlemire's comprehensive rant on the legal issues.

Stottlemire also argues that TRUSTe has been far too credulous of Coupons' claims and, apparently, does not test software as well as it claims to. He specifically claims to have proof that the old version of Coupons software was online long before March 15, but TRUSTe has chosen to believe Coupons instead.

He also claims that the program, which TRUSTe says is compliant with its privacy requirements, "still uses a deceptively named random registry key hidden in the Windows registry in a place it obviously does not belong and further hides a deceptively named file which collects pseudonymous data about a consumer's computer in the windows or windows system32 directory, again a random decision."

Confused by the myriad terms and acronyms in IT security? Click here for eWEEK's Security Dictionary. 

I haven't validated every point Stottlemire makes, but I haven't seen him wrong on anything. Currently, the program creates misleadingly named registry keys and files that are not removed when the program is uninstalled, in violation of TRUSTe's rules, and TRUSTe is happy about it and there is a TRUSTe seal on the Coupons site again.

I should add that Jeff Weitzman of Coupon said that "we are now testing a new version that makes the CID visible when installed, along with an updated uninstaller. If testing goes well, this will be released in a couple of weeks." He told me that this was at TRUSTe's request, but since the logo is there now, I guess it's not at its demand.

At this rate, there may eventually be a happy ending, when Coupons responds to the last complaint and the last vestiges of its legal actions against Stottlemire are dismissed. But it will take much longer before I think of trusting its software on my computers. And if I know not to trust a TRUSTe seal without corroboration, what good is it anyway?

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's blog Cheap Hack.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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