ActiveX often marks spyware spot
Adware Report's Comment: Microsoft says we should all buy new PCs to protect ourselves from spyware. Is anyone surprised by this comment?
SEATTLE A technology called ActiveX is the main reason Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer browser has become so susceptible to invasive spyware, security experts say.
ActiveX, which permits an outsider to silently upload programs to a Web-connected computer via the browser, has become the tool of choice for spyware distributors.
The most common type of spyware called adware tracks Web-surfing habits and reports back to advertisers. But cybercrooks are increasingly using ActiveX to surreptitiously upload more invasive forms of spyware designed to carry out an array of identity-theft schemes.
A recent survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance and America Online found 80% of the PCs in 329 homes infected with an average of 93 types of spyware.
Microsoft has responded with Service Pack 2 a free upgrade for Windows XP computers containing an array of operating system and browser safeguards. One key upgrade a download-monitoring tool alerts the PC user any time someone tries to use ActiveX to install a program through the Explorer browser.
But Service Pack 2 only helps owners of Windows XP PCs. Roughly 43% of the 500 million PCs on the Internet at any given time use earlier versions of Windows, according to Google.
To get access to the most secure version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft advises hundreds of millions of owners of PCs using older versions of Windows to buy a new PC.
"It's like buying a car," says Gary Schare, Microsoft director of security for Windows. "If you want to get the latest safety features, you have to buy the latest model."
Windows PC owners can switch to alternative browsers supplied by Firefox or Opera, both free. Mac owners can use Safari. None supports ActiveX technology, making them immune to the most pervasive forms of spyware. (Related story: Firefox ignites interest in alternative browser)
"We've been anti-ActiveX since day one," says Hakon Wium Lie, Opera's chief technology officer. "It is very hard to limit some really nasty things, while keeping the good things."
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