September 10, 2001-- Newsletter #147

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go (tm)
September 10, 2001--Newsletter #147

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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

My wife was at Sam's Club and, out of the kindness of her heart, bought a DVD player. Oh...bad idea. I bought "Hannibal" and have now watched the same four scenes upwards of 100 times. Hey, I can jump right to them. Why not? I've begun doing imitations of the movie at dinner. Furthermore, I've been living my life renting the DVDs of all my older favorite movies. I never actually watch the movies themselves. I'm far more interested in all of the extra stuff like the director's comments and the outtakes. The original Rocky has like an hour with Sylvester Stallone. Very cool! On my running list of technology I like and technology I don't - the DVD goes way up at the top of the "Like" column.

Did you hear...

Windows XP won't be on sale for another couple of months but already its claims of being anti-piracy software are in question. First off, there are numerous pirated versions rolling around the Web. Better yet, bulletin boards are filling up with reports of cracks that hackers are finding before the product even hits the market. Wow.

A bulletin board at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Central China has been shut down because students began posting topics that dealt with the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.

The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) has given a thumbs-up, in the form of a protocol recommendation, to Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 1.0. The image format is said to allow Web pages to recreate the same glossy- type photos like you'll find in magazines. Furthermore, the format is said to be much better moving from platform to platform and devise to devise than current formats.

SONY's AIBO robotic puppy must have gotten out of the kennel. SONY has unveiled two new "puppies". They're named Latte and Macaron.

Now on to today's topic...

So, have you been surfing around lately noticing more and more green or yellow highlighted links these days? Right there on an otherwise well-designed page is a series of strange links that really don't seem to carry any rhyme or reason. Have you seen that?

If you don't know what I'm talking about, well done. You've kept yourself clean of scumware. I've also seen the term "theftware" used, but "scumware" has so much more of a ring to it.

Scumware, as I saw it named by Allan Gardyne of, is the latest in a long line of methods to steal visitors away from your site and send them to paying customers.

Here's the general idea. Scumware can be installed in and of itself, but usually it's placed on a computer as an add-on piece of software that installs right along with something else the user downloaded. The user installs the software and unwittingly places this scumware right into the mix.

Currently, the most popular program for delineating scumware is named KaZaA. It's a NAPSTER-style file- sharing program. A few other culprits include:

eZula (
Gator (
Surf+ (

(The Surf+ Website claims to have turned off the scumware component.)

In each case, the programs claim to do one thing like help you fill out forms (Gator) or help you stop pop up ads (Surf+). Granted the software does do what it promises, but that function is only the carrot to make you bite. The real deal is to get a program called TopText, or equal, onto your system.

Once TopText is on yours system, ads can be delivered from any site through the text presented.

For the sake of argument, let's say I am a bad guy and I decide to take advantage of scumware and sign up to be an advertiser. I buy words. When a page loads, the program looks for my words in the text of the page. If the words appear, the TopText program lays a hypertext link, through a layer or equal style of programming, over the text.

If I buy the text "HTML" I can make it so that anyone who has TopText installed on their system will get a link to when the letters "HTML" occur on a page. Think about how successful I could be if I did that. Anyone with TopText could go to an HTML help site and anytime the text "HTML" appears, it becomes a link to my site. Furthermore, if the site already has HTML set to be a link, my link overrides theirs. Click and you come to me.

McDonalds could use this and buy the word "burger". That means that someone running TopText could go to the Burger King Web site and every instance of the word "burger" would be a link to Mickey-Ds.


I hate that this is happening, but you have to hand it to the people who came up with this. It really is impressive that anyone would think to do this, set it up to be a covert operation, and succeed.

By this point, you may be interested in what exactly these links will look like. Well, here are a few screen shots from sites around the Web:

Screen Shots here.

More shots.

Right off the bat, we can talk about the laws that, if they are not being broken, are at least being bent. This includes vandalism of Web sites, copyright infringement, and fraud just to get us started. But that's not what bugs me.

When I hear of a new virus being delivered via an attachment I shake my head. When I hear that it is flourishing because people just keep clicking even though the last ten viruses came the exact same way, I tend to think, "fool me twice, shame on me." This is different. Most everyone that has this on his or her system was tricked into installing the program.

Now, the sites offering the program may claim that they warned consumers through the statements noted above but that certainly wasn't enough. That gerrymandering format of text would never warn away someone from downloading the Gator program.

Plus, and this is what gets me, I look like the jerk! Someone rolls into running that TopText deal and the next thing you know, every time my page uses the text "Goodies" someone clicks and goes to a porn site.

Will that person blame Gator?

Heck no. They'll blame me. They'll write me. They'll call my mother names and I'll have no idea what in the heck they're talking about...

...because I didn't post the link!

But all that aside, what really blows me away is that this form of advertising is successful. It works. Advertisers pay for the service because it works. It brings people to their site. Most surfers don't even realize that they've been duped so they're not angry. They click, look around, see five or six banner ads, wonder what in the world happened, and hopefully come back.

...and again I'm a jerk for sending them there.


If you'd like to read more about Scumware, head to this page. and read all about it. There are links galore. I really commend the author for the work.

I wrote this piece in response to numerous angry emails from people that wanted me to Get the word out so we could, "crush this right now". I agree that the idea needs to be thwarted, but signing petitions and writing emails to this person or that person really isn't the answer.

Take away the advertising venue. That's the answer.

The thing is, the tide is already turning. The word is out and people are learning about what those little yellow and green boxes mean and who is actually placing them. This newsletter alone will reach a quarter million people. If they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, maybe a million people will understand they've been duped and will pull that silly program off of their computer. (Instructions below)

As I said earlier, Surf+ has already shut down its TopText. Others will follow. Once enough people take action by recognizing the links for what they are and begin to pull the software off of their computers, the advertising venue will most likely tumble like a house of cards.

You can write letters to the advertisers and those who produce the software all day long. I'm sorry, but they won't care. You won't change them through angry emails. Those who distribute these programs will only understand one thing. No users will mean no advertising venue will mean no advertisers. The end.

Get rid of it. Get it off of your computer. That's the strongest move you can make. The next strongest would be getting it off of someone else's computer.

Here are the steps to eliminating the program:

There. That's done.

The next advertising "wolf in sheep's clothing" should be showing up in, say, two months.


That's that. Thanks for your time and attention.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The loudest sound created when you snap your fingers is not from your middle finger striking your thumb's pad, it's the air the middle finger pushes away actually striking the palm. Really. Try to make the same noise by simply slapping your fingers against your palm or thumb's pad. The sound it further amplified by the ring and small finger lying across the palm, the "sounding board." Again, try to make the same snapping sound while only slightly lifting those two fingers off of the palm. Listen to the pitch when you raise those two fingers. It'll be higher.

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