Thursday, January 06, 2005

When Spyware becomes Stealware. 180 Search Assistant and its ilk must be stopped

Imagine calling directory service. "I'd like the number for Kaiser's Breast Cancer support group." Instead of giving you the number you want at Kaiser, the operator directs you to Yes, They're Fake!

I just spent the better part of the day removing a program that I did not want and did not install. This program hijacked my browser and threw up web pages in front of the web pages I was searching for. The unwanted web pages obstructed my chosen pages and interfered with me filling out forms for items I wanted to purchase from the chosen pages.

It stole my time and revenue from the sites I was searching for when it hijacked my browser.

The designers of this "stealware" program are clearly aware of its unwanted nature, yet are coy on their web page about its origins and intentions. Their programmers stay one step ahead of the spyware and adware removal programs by using fake uninstall routines. They constantly change the names of the files and programs to evade easy matching algorithms. They attach to host programs and keep reinstalling themselves after they have been uninstalled. A big thank you goes to Matthew Doucette for an extensive page on removing this beast of a program Uninstall 180 Search Assistant. The creators are not 17 year old hackers, but a collection of thieves who raked in 20 million in sales last year.

Ed has been griping about misleading EULAs for years. Here is a case of a program that throws a brick through your computer monitor and says,

“You asked for it when you went to that website!" or "You know that program that you downloaded to show smilies? You said yes to that and didn't read the part where we install a browser hijacker, so technically you gave consent. Sucker! Oh and we paid money to join a group called COAST, (Coalition of Anti Spyware Technology) so we must not be Spyware, right? 180solutions and Zango are Spywear"

Yes there can be technical remedies to stop this, but they have not caught up with the latest programming tricks of these people. They are using the spammer and virus maker tricks to stay ahead of adware and spyware removal programs. But unlike spammers and virus makers they try to be a legit business. Therefore they can be found, sued and forced to cease and desist for blocking interstate commerce. It's one thing when a 17 year old in Sweden makes me spend 8 hours cleaning my computer. I can't find him, he has no assets and he isn't going to legitimate businesses and saying, "If you include my virus with your software it will siphon money from your competitors and we'll split the take."

I'd say this calls for a lawsuit, and I know that by the time it has been filed they will have morphed into something else (they already have several times). Maybe they need to be shut down quicker. Perhaps filing a criminal complaint is in order?

If a restraining order is filed with the FTC there already is precedent FTC gets injunction against ‘pop-up spam scam’ and it is pretty relevant. I'm not sure how these things work, but I think that someone who has lost revenue because of the hijacked browsers needs to be the one to file suit. As a user I could be part of the suit, but I don't think I have any clout in terms of the FTC paying attention and acting on a request. The FTC doesn't care about the poor computer users wasting billions of hours, but stop someone from making money?! Look out!

I'm guessing that within the IT community this problem will grow within their user base until someone can create a strong enough case for pointy haired bosses to say, "What? I'm losing money because of these jokers? I'm calling our lawyers! This is an outrage! "


Anonymous said...

I drive by 180 degrees the spyware maker, most days. They are in Bellevue near seattle wa and are very close to loehmans plaza in factoria.

I hate them, I hate them so much.

10:06 PM  
spocko said...

Hi! Thanks for posting! Do tell! What was your experience with them? Are you an end user who got your computer browser hijacked or are you an advertiser/affiliate that had it's money stolden?

I always like to collect Ammo to help the guys putting together lawsuits.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous said...

Maybe this is why I was getting blank browser pages sometimes... I do have a firewall set to block most of the popup domains. Very frustrating. Until I removed it, I could not use this computer to do many routine tasks.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous said...

I just re-installed Windows on my Dad's computer, it had been running for a couple of years and it was just getting to be that time.

I used the original Windows XPPRO SP1 CD that came with the system. I neglected to unplug his desktop from his cable modem.

AS SOON AS I LOGGED ONTO WINDOWS FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME WHAT WAS RUNNING?!?!?!? 180SEARCH ASSISTANT!!!!I realized that with just SP1 the firewall is not turned on by default. I never installed an application. I never even opened a web browser. 180Search Assistant and its friend winstat.exe had already taken hold of the system.

Needless to say I reformated, unplugged from the internet, and turned on the firewall before plugging back in and downloading SP2 for XP.

I hate these spyware making leaches. They are worse than any virus makers in my books.

This is coming from an IT Pro, and I've cleaned their junk from quite a few computers now. They come along side download trojans making removal more of a pain than ever.

There is no way these guys are just piggy backing along with legit software anymore, they are downright maliciouse about their methods, exploiting windows flaws and forcing their software upon unsuspecting non-savy users.

180 Search Assistant and its like are not only costing real businesses money, but also making it very difficult for those poor non-savvy home users to get by on the interenet. If there is anything out there that can present a real need to change the way the interenet works, its this damn garbage ware crap.

8:40 AM  
spocko said...

Thanks for posting. I KNOW your pain.

I think you have pointed two things that the computer industry hasn't really addressed. For all the talk about corporate TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), they never address Person Total Cost of Ownership. How many of us are supporting the computers of 3-6 family members?

My relatives seem to think that the computer is static and won't change over time. With the advent of nasty sneaky things like 180 search assistant and it's ilk (I really love that word. Next to goo, it is my favorite)computers degenerate into sluggish, personal spying, bandwidth stealing, zombie becoming messes of tangled software.

I just read a review on the various spyware and adware blocking software. The best, AdAware, only gets 60 some percent of all the junk on your machine.
The second best, Spybot Search and Destroy, only gets 40 some percent. And each doesn't catch ones the other catches! The program that was the best was bought by Microsoft but hasn't reemerged as a bloated mess yet.

What can we do?
1) Link to Ben Edelman's Page and my post on this either in this blog or on Ed Foster's Gripe log.

Linking to these stories will raise up the issue in Google when people search for the stealware that is 180 Search Assistant. Ben is putting together Law Suits from people who have had revenue swiped from the software provided by 180Solutions. The more real world stories about its nastiness the better. 180Solutions are now claiming they are not spyware and if anything is bad, it comes from their software distributors that are using the pervious versions of the software. They are pretending that they don't have any control over their software distributors (bull).

My take is that the industry doesn't give a shit about the inconvience of end users, they will just make another product to sell them to deal with the annonyances of the first product (think virus,anti-virus). But in this case the companies making the annoying software can be stopped because we know where they live and we can prove they are stealing money from OTHER software companies. The key is to let the companies getting ripped off by 180Search Assistant do the dirty work. They have lawyers and pissed off clients with reduced revenue streams. We can help the lawyers by talking about our pain so they can put a human face on the problem if it ever goes to a jury.

2) Bring this problem up in context of office laptops that are at home and on the road. This software can get in even if you are on a secure VPN connection. If you go to the right sites and for some reason you don't have the firewall on you are screwed (we all know those road warriors who turn off protection to speed up their machines.).

Thanks for stopping by and posting!

12:54 PM  
rickscript said...

Just read your Blog and the comments left to it. I have also been victimized by this crap ware. I built my first machine from scratch and was pretty proud of my accomplishments in getting everything to work the way it is supposed to. Then it happened. I was only 2 days after completion and was installing some software applications (from my own discs); I had hardly even gone on-line except to check my e-mail and get a few updated drivers etc. when i was getting re-directed like crazy. The culprits were 180 search assistant and liquid irc-loud cash. Suddenly I got a Norton warning screen that I was infected by a trojan horse. This screen would not leave no matter what I did, including rebooting. If I tried to do a google search for 180 search or liquid irc all I got were glowing reviews and sites singing their praises. Somehow they must have hijacked my ability to access legitimate search engines. AND the compute got so S--L--O--W that it was virtually impossible to do anything. I don't remember doing anything to acquire this leach (and I am not a newbie or unsavvy person) other than not activate the firewall fast enough (I am using SP-1- don't want the media player 9 with all it's DRM crap) or making the usual security changes on Internet Options (like disabling install on demand etc). Since I was only a few days into this I reformatted my drive and reinstalled everything again, losing some data in the process.

I am really pissed off no end. They robbed me of a day of my life to get this straightened out and my lost data. I am totally with you on this and I want to join the fight to make these scumsuckers pay and suffer.

3:17 PM  
spocko said...

crap ware. I LOVE IT. Great term.

You are quite right you did nothing wrong. The spead of stealware and "crap ware" products are astounding. Based on my research and the work of Ben these products are spread to third parties which 180Search claims they can't control.

They stole your time and hijacked your browser. As I said, the end users aren't protected, but hopefully the people who have their revenue's taken will take 180search to court.

A few things you can to help these people get their comeuppance.

1) Link to Ben Edelman's Page and my post on this either in this blog or on Ed Foster's Gripe log.

2) Your comments here might acts as some notes for a future case against 180search Assistant. You might want to write down more details (especially times and dates) since you wiped your drive you won't have logs of websites you visited in the brief time after you built the computer and before you got hit. The odd are that one of the websites infected you or there was a piece of spyware IN ONE OF THE PROGRAMS YOU LOADED. There are a few "smilie" and clock programs that host the 180search assistant program. If you have a list of those that might help. You can either post it hear or keep it. Some day some smart lawyer will be looking for these kind of details.

Other than that, I feel you pain. Been there. BTW, congrats on building your own box!!

Stop by the blog anytime, you are most welcome here.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous said...

I have that stupid spyware on my computer and it won't go away! My spybot- search and destroy can't get rid of it and avg doesn't even pick it up! How the hell do i get rid of it??

3:49 AM  
Anonymous said...

search for spyware removal instructions over the internet, google will drop down millions of results. 180 search assistant must be removed!

5:03 AM  
Anonymous said...

For the first time in my life, I am pissed enough to want to sue someone! My computer just got infected with 180 Search, and I downloaded PC Doctor to search for *bad* files. After I removed them, my computer won't boot up anymore. I'm going to have to reinstall my OS and have lost a lot of data since my last backup. Yeah, I made a mistake by deleting some system files I should not have (but only because they were flagged by the adware software), but this would not have happened in the first place if those 180 SA bastards hadn't done their nefarious activities first. Damn you. I don't know how you live with yourself, how you can stand to look in the mirror everyday. You are scum...

9:15 AM  
Anonymous said...

i had problems with 180 search assistant as well. finally after hours of searching for help i stumbled upon these 180 search assistant removal instructions. those are completely free of charge and my computer is now spyware free.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous said...

Hi, I am cleaning a friends laptop and have found the 180 program on it, I have found it on several others over the past few weeks, there is a free program called hijackthis which can be downloaded from the net, it will show up the 180 program and it's associated parts and kin, like saishook,sidefind,msbe surf accuracy bulls eye etc. You have to be careful not to use it to delete useful stuff but if you are careful and check what you are about to delete before doing so you should be safe. I have used this program to good effect and saved several machines from having to be reinstalled. I hope this helps. I love beating these **************** and getting a machine back to rights without having to reinstall. Also beware if you recieve a spyware warning on your desctop if you click on it for help you are likely to download even worse. Merlin

6:37 PM  
Anonymous said...

I agree with everything said about these parasites. I have just realised that 180 Search Assistant is causing me no end of trouble and I'm determined to beat the sucker. Unfortunately I'm one of the "unsuspecting" internet home users who would have preferd been born in the horse and cart days than on the eve of the so called technological boom. About the only thing that is booming, thanks to "Mr Microsoft" and coleagues is childhood obesety and stress as we plant our fat asses in front of the computer and slowly lose our ability to communicate face to face, how to spell and how to participate in the healthy side of life. Anyway I digress; BACK TO "180 Search Assistant" I am about to search for it in my program files and attempt to remove it the conventional way. Failing this I have already run a free online spyware program,, this has identified several files, registry keys and directories associated with "180 Search Assistant";these will all be selected and deleted. Failing this I am going to place a Sicilian curse on the pricks that wrote this spyware and thrust it upon my life uninvited. They will not know what hit them and the curse will only be lifted when they decide to get a life and do some good for the community ie stop creating shit that affects peoples everday lifes and do something positive!

6:20 PM  
spocko said...

Good luck! Just curious (if you came back) where are you writing from?

I hear ya. Be sure to check out
He has been doing some HEROIC work getting the word out about these practices.

I was heartened to read that Ben and some other companies DID file suit AFTER 180 Search Assistant Sued THEM! Some non-sense. But the good news is that Ben has also been "following the money" that allows this software to keep going. It is not kids in a garage and it is hurting people's business and that can and should be dealt with. In both the technological and legal areanas.

BTW, if you are from AU or NZ just want to say welcome. Some of my favorite people are from you part of the world. (that and Canada! For some reason Canadians like me, well I like them back!)

6:52 PM  
Anonymous said...

You guessed it Spocko I am from Australia; to be exact I come from a small suburb in the southern part of Sydney called Kareela, in the Sutherland Shire,otherwise known as "God's Country". Congratulations on your web site; as well as helping ludites like myself it is a good place for venting ones spleen. By the way I'm serious about the Sicilian curse. My parents imigrated from Sicily in the mid 50's and although I was born and bred in Sydney I speak the Sicilian dialect, love the food etc Regards BIG-Pic

4:55 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home