posted on Apr, 8 2004 @ 07:59 PM
Surfing the Web used to be such as simple, enjoyable experience. Log on, go to the web site of your choice, enjoy the page, and head somewhere else.
Those days are long gone. Nowadays it seems that the Internet has turned into sleazy carnival midway, complete with flashing lights and loud music,
barkers pleading at you to venture into the sideshows, scamsters promising you big payoffs if you try three-card Monte, and slimy individual dieing to
infect you and yours with some sort of nasty funk.
Since I recently received a very nasty little virus that slipped past my virus protection software I started researching many different aspects of the
little secrets of the Internet. One area that I found a fond interest in is how non-anonymous we really are while on the web. Today we have pop
ups, spyware, and something that many of you probably know very little about . . . WEB BUGS! All three of these can destroy our lives, but web bugs
are something we really need to pay attention too and an area that we all need to become educated in.
As you already know pop ups are ads that, as the name implies, pop up over your browser, usually in a smaller window, and frequently contain flashing
messages and other kinds of obnoxious come-ons. Spyware is software that piggybacks onto your hard disk on the backs of other pieces of software,
reports on your activities to ad servers, and then delivers ads to you based on what sites you visit. There's typically no way to know offhand that
spyware has been installed on your system, because it lurks invisibly—hence the name. Even after you uninstall the program upon which it piggybacked,
it could remain on your PC, reporting on your activities.
For those who never heard of web bugs they are invisible bits of data, frequently a single 1x1 pixel in size (sometimes called "clear GIFs"), that
can track all your activities on a web site and report them back to a server. These little sh-ts are one of the more pernicious ways your online
activities can be tracked, no matter which browser you're using. Sometimes, the web site the bugs send information to isn't the one that contains
the web bug; for example, they may send information back to an online advertising network, and that is just the nice friendly little lice. Web bugs
are surprisingly common. The Cyveillance technology and analysis company found that their use grew nearly 500% between 1998 and 2001.
Alone web bugs can do little other than registers the location and name of the document that loaded the bug, your IP address, and the name and version
of the program opening the document. They cannot access documents or programs stored on your computer. They cannot reveal your name, address, age,
phone number, email address, or any other personally identifiable information.
However, a web bug becomes more powerful when it can access cookies set by other bugs from the same site. The Privacy Foundation has uncovered a more
site loading a web bug. This would allow the author of the email to read every new comment as the email is forwarded. That could be disastrous in many
different ways, you probably can imagine many scenarios on your own.
You can reduce the risks associated with web bugs with the right tools. Bugnosis is a free program that will detect hidden bugs on a web page and
alert you to their presence. However, it will not stop the bugs from loading. For that, you need blocking software such as AdSubtract. AdSubtract will
block web bugs and ad banners from loading if they are located on known advertising servers.
You can also change settings in Outlook Express to reduce the risk in your email. Click the Tools -> Options -> Security tab and set it to use the
"Restricted" internet zone. This will not stop web bugs from loading, but it will disable all active scripting and cookies in your HTML emails. You
can also turn off the display of HTML if you have Outlook Express 6 with service pack 1. Click Tools -> Options -> Read, and check the box next to
"Read all messages in plain text."
As mentioned, web bugs do have a very basic use to help companies understand how their site is being used. This insight can be used to improve
usability and site navigation. However, like any technology, web bugs can be abused by unscrupulous people.
So what do you think? Do 1x1 pixel web bugs scare you like they do me?
[Edited on 4/8/2004 by - G -]