• From: Jim Kenzig <jimkenz@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: thin@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, windows2000@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 14:20:25 -0500

From the Windows Magazine Security News Letter Block them now...


Have you ever received a Web-based greeting card from a friend or
relative? They're common these days, and they seem to be taken for
granted, in that people trust the intent of someone who might send
them a greeting card. People like to be greeted with kindness, so
they're inclined to look at and read the greeting card. It's one of
the feel-good things that many people simply can't resist.

Have you ever wondered why a company would spend its Internet
resources delivering free greeting cards on behalf of people with whom
it conducts no business otherwise? How does such an entity profit from
those endeavors? What might its motives be?

Last week, a user posted an interesting message to our HowTo for
Security mailing list regarding one company that delivers Web-based
greeting cards. That company, Permissioned Media, runs a Web site
called FriendGreetings.com, which lets one person send another person
an electronic greeting card. The friendly facilitation seems simple
and harmless, but it has a rather insidious side.

When you receive a greeting from FriendGreetings.com, the message says
that someone sent you the greeting and that to read it, you must click
a URL that takes you to the Web site hosting the greeting. When you
click the URL, you're prompted to install an ActiveX control before
you view the greeting. As the greeting-card recipient, you would
probably assume that you must install the ActiveX control to view the
greeting; however, that's not the case. Instead, FriendGreetings.com
has designed the ActiveX control, complete with an End User License
Agreement (EULA), to interact with your mail client software and
harvest information about your email contacts. After the ActiveX
control obtains your private contact list information, it sends a
similar greeting card to everyone in your contact list, probably
unbeknownst to you!

If you took time to read the EULA from FriendGreetings.com, you'd
discover that the EULA clearly states Permissioned Media's intention
to do just that. A section of the EULA reads, "As part of the
installation process, Permissioned Media will access your Microsoft
Outlook contacts list and send an e-mail to persons on your contacts
list inviting them to download FriendGreetings or related products."
By accepting the EULA and installing the ActiveX control, you give the
company permission to perform that activity.

In essence, the greeting cards that FriendGreetings.com delivers
resemble many worms that travel the Internet: They're parasitic,
intrusive, devious, elusive, and most of all, probably unwanted. Even
some antivirus vendors issued warnings about the greeting card last
week. However, we can't completely blame FriendGreetings.com for its
use because, although the company counts on most users' acceptance of
the unread EULA, the EULA does spell out some of its intention. By
agreeing to the EULA, users agree to the ActiveX control activity.
Nevertheless, the lesson here should be obvious: When you encounter a
EULA, don't take anything for granted. Read it word for word to
understand exactly what you're accepting and think through what the
consequences of acceptance might be.

Permissioned Media bills itself as a "behavioral marketing network"
with more than 100 clients that advertise online. The company also
operates Cool-Downloads.com. You can read Permissioned Media's EULA at
the URL below. Take note that it grants the company "the right to add
additional features or functions to the version of PerMedia you
install, or to add new applications to PerMedia, at any time." Yikes!

If you've received a greeting card from FriendGreetings.com and
installed the associated ActiveX control, you might want to remove its
software from your system. To find out how, be sure to read the
related news article, "Protect Your Contact List: Read the EULA!" in
this newsletter.

And if you're a security administrator for your network, consider
blocking FriendGreetings.com to help ensure that none of your network
users inadvertently compromise private contact information by
accepting a greeting card from that Web site.
Visit Jim Kenzig of thethin.net at the
Emergent Online Booth #26 at Citrix Iforum 2002!
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