Friday, February 10, 2006

Are cookies spyware? WWDS?

Should cookies that track your web surfing be considered ? (WWDS). To the many millions of people trying desperately to keep their home Windows PC from collapsing under the load of adware, spyware, bots, worms and virii, and looking on the internet for help, it might seem like there is a raging (or at least simmering) debate about cookies -- are they spyware or not? This debate is mainly fueled mainly by the tension between adware vendors (typically shady or at least shadowy new media advertising outfits that match ads to web surfing habits) and anti-spyware vendors. The former need cookies to provide value added advertising, while the latter want to make the malware situation seem as bad as possible by releasing reports periodically about how much worse it's getting. Even if cookies are discounted entirely, the malware situation is indeed getting worse every year, and is very bad here in 2006. There really shouldn't be much debate about this, and there doesn't really seem to be much debate among serious and independant security professionals. Tracking cookies may not be executables, but it's reasonable to consider many of them to be spyware. A cookie can be considered to be spyware any time it's part of a larger adware system which may identify a particular user and their web surfing history, or any time it reports information back to a web server that the user didn't specifically authorize to disclose. This would certainly include disclosure to 3rd party web sites, which is seldom done with the web surfer's knowledge or permission. (I'm probably casting a bit of a wider net here than some folk would.) This argument is also a bit of a slippery slope. It's only a quick slide down that slope to see Dilbert's perspective. Dilbert would say that all cookies should be considered "spyware" unless proven innocent. Given the , "idiots" (that's everyone at one time or another, including you, me, and Scott Adams, author of The Dilbert Principle) will assure that:
  • information which shouldn't be stored in cookies will continue to be stored in cookies, and
  • browser defects from time to time will continue to allow cookies to be read by 3rd parties.
So, to the extent that your bank (or whatever) stores identity information in cookies that are subsequently read by other web sites, any cookie on your system could be an avenue for disclosure of sensitive information. is working with DSL providers, Cable Modem service providers, and other network providers to help reduce the crushing load of spyware often managed by botnets. We're working to bring our uniquely effective anti-botnet and anti-worm technology to the DSL and Cable Modem networks that are used to spread spyware through worms and bots. Help reclaim the internet. Place an or button on your blog or web site today. Yes, this is shameless self promotion, but it's for a good cause.

No comments: