Anti-Spyware Site Unveiled by Researchers

Anti Spyware Researchers from Harvard and Oxford Universities have released a corporate-backed website which intends to become a clearinghouse for internet users on spyware and other malicious software.

The site, which Google Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group Ltd. are endorsing, will finally identify vendors of such programs by name and provide information to help consumers decide whether a program is safe to download or not.

Google’s chief Internet evangelist and one of the Internet’s chief inventors, Vint Cerf said, “It’s important for users to understand what risks they face and try to help them identify which software is likely to be problematic.”

The nonprofit Consumer Reports WebWatch is serving as an unpaid adviser.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Internet users have become more vigilant online, thanks to worries about spyware and adware, which can sneak onto computers, bombard users with pop-up ads and drain processing power to the point of rendering computers unusable.

Cerf said such annoyances threaten the growth of the Internet and of his company as well.

It is still a little ambiguous as to how the new effort, which will be available from Wednesday at StopBadware.org, will differ from resources already available through the Web sites of anti-spyware vendors and private individuals, including former Harvard fellow Ben Edelman.

John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said researchers will post reports on applications that contain viruses and worms as well as software deemed by tests to be safe.

Palfrey added that the first of the reports won’t appear until at least late-February, with new ones added monthly.

At the start, the site will post its criteria. Software developers will be told, for example, that the site will expose as transgressors any programs that exploit a computer “for any purpose not understood and affirmatively consented for by the end user.”

According to Palfrey, the Web site will name the program’s developers as well that of its distributors — and in some cases even companies that use such platforms to run ads.

The site, he said, will also identify any free games, screensavers and other programs known to attach spyware or adware to downloads.

Palfrey did not reveal as to how much money each company is contributing other than to describe the project as “multiyear, multimillion.”

He said the university researchers make the final calls and are open to criticise software produced by the donor companies. Palfrey continued that the universities also assume all legal risks, he said.