Toronto: Typhoid adware, a virus, is a potential threat lurking in cyber cafés, according to computer science researchers.
Adware is a software that sneaks onto computers often when users download things, for example, fancy tool bars or free screen savers, and it typically pops up lots and lots of ads.
The menace Typhoid adware, as it is called now, works in a way similar to Typhoid Mary, the first identified human carrier of typhoid fever who spread the disease to dozens of people in the New York area in the early 1900s.
"Our research describes a potential computer security threat and offers some solutions," said University of Calgary associate professor John Aycock, who co-authored the paper with Mea Wang and students Daniel Medeiros Nunes de Castro and Eric Lin.
"We`re looking at a different variant of adware - Typhoid adware - which we haven`t seen out there yet, but we believe could be a threat soon," Aycock said.
Typhoid adware needs a wireless internet café or other area where users share a non-encrypted wireless connection.
"Typhoid adware is designed for public places where people bring their laptops," said Aycock. "It`s far more covert, displaying advertisements on computers that don`t have the adware installed, not the ones that do."
Typically, adware authors install their software on as many machines as possible. But Typhoid adware comes from another person`s computer and convinces other laptops to communicate with it and not the legitimate access point.
Then the Typhoid adware automatically inserts ads in videos and web pages on the other computers.
University of Calgary researchers have come up with a number of defences against Typhoid adware. One is protecting the content of videos to ensure that what users see comes from the original source.
Another is a way to "tell" laptops they are at an internet café to make them more suspicious of contact from other computers, a University of Calgary release said.
Why worry about ads? Aycock explained it this way: "Not only are ads annoying but they can also advertise rogue antivirus software that`s harmful to your computer, so ads are in some sense the tip of the iceberg."
De Castro recently presented the study at a conference devoted to IT security in Paris.