Internet Peepholes
Who's Looking at You?
by Mark Liberator (e-mail: [Updated December 15th, 2002]

     Ever get the feeling that someone is looking over your shoulder while you're surfing the Internet? Even if there is no one in the room with you, odds are you are being tracked as you surf across the Internet.

     When I wrote the article Cookies: Taking a Bite Out of Privacy Invasion a few months ago, I thought I was pretty smart. Finding ways to prevent files called cookies from landing up on my harddrive made me feel very confident that Internet privacy was once again restored. I was dead wrong!

     I noticed that everytime I logged on to the Internet, my modem was busy sending and receiving information even though I wasn't doing anything to demand such activity. I dismissed it and went on with my Internet chores but not knowing what my computer was doing really frustrated me.

     Coincidentally, some kook from a newsgroup started threatening me so I decided it was time to install a firewall to protect me from electronic attacks [1], [2]. When I gained access to the Internet, the firewall prompted me by asking if I wanted to allow TSAdBot to send/receive information. Since I didn't recognize the program, I denied it from working.

“These advertisers have created programs that run in the background and divulge personal information while you are online.”

     A few days later, I decided to investigate this event. I clicked on Start:Find:Files or Folders. I searched for *bot.* because I remembered the file had the word bot in it. It uncovered the suspicious file in the folder Programs\TimeSink\AdGateway.

     Opening the folder wasn't helpful. There was no ReadMe file. I enlisted the aid of Google [3] and found the culprit after being led to helpful information on ZDNet [4].

     When certain programs are installed on your harddrive, you run the risk of installing advertising software that accompany the programs. Advertising agencies like Conducent Technologies [5] routinely form partnerships with software companies by packaging their products together. You wouldn't know it unless you read the fine print before you installed the program.

     These advertisers have created programs that run in the background and divulge personal information while you are online. The mechanism reports the ads you click and can sends personalized advertisements as a result.

     The advertisor's software is linked so closely to its companion program that the program may not run if you decide to delete the intrusive files. For instance, PKZIP may not run if you delete TSAdBot [6]. PKWARE claims the advertisements make the programs affordable to those who don't want to spend the full price of its software, essentially making it freeware when combined with the spyware.

     However, I strongly suggest that all Internet users locate good firewall software and promptly install it on their systems. This will prevent these devious advertising agencies from playing Big Brother and leave you with peace of mind. I'll gladly run the risk of damaging freeware programs by elliminating their spyware counterparts, if necessary. I would rather pay for the software than be profiled by some faceless advertising company.


  1. Network ICE: BlackICE Defender
  2. Zone Labs: ZoneAlarm
  3. Google: Search Engine
  4. ZDNet: Who's Watching You Surf?
  5. Conducent Technologies: Homepage
  6. PKWARE: PKZIP's Connection with Conducent
  7. New York Times: Enjoy Your New Software, and Check Out the Advertisements
  8. Washington Post: Your PC Is Watching
  9. LavaSoft: Ad-aware (Spyware Removal Software) [Highly Recommended!!!]

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