Author Topic: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards  (Read 41070 times)

Offline Kevin McAleavey

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Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« on: June 27, 2008, 10:08:21 PM »
 Recently, questions have arisen with respect to the "Ask.com" toolbar which is offered along with COMODO's "Safe Surf" software, which is bundled with recent releases of the COMODO firewall. As a result of these questions, I was requested to provide an independent examination of these concerns as part of an internal review of the issues raised as an employee of COMODO. I can only offer that despite my employment by COMODO, it is important to note that my "independence" is contractual and therefore I'm putting my PERSONAL reputation "on the line" in this commentary. I speak for myself in what follows, without encumberances, directives or reservations.

 Let's begin with information as to the basis for malware detection with respect to "search bars" and BHO's ("Browser Helper Objects") in general not only by BOClean, but by the standards of the rest of the "anti-malware community" in general. Some programs and "system add-ons" can be useful and non-malicious. Other search toolbars provided by Google, Yahoo and others are considered inert or "safe" because they go about their installation in specific, proper ways, and do not compromise privacy or security. And when their actions are discretionary and do not interfere with normal internet activities, then they are routinely judged inert and not covered.

 In past years, such operations as "AskJeeves," "MyWay," "MySearch" and other holdings had a long history of adverse behavior not only in the way their software was designed, but also their "affiliate" programs. These improper policies resulted in "hijacking" of existing home pages or URL requests, installation of what is referred to as "additional crapware," false "click throughs" and "page hits" when the pages were never intended to be visited, as well as hiding of these mechanisms by other means preventing the user from correcting any of these changes. We've always referred to these as "rogue affiliates" and "drive-by installs." In short, clearly "Malware."

 In addition, most of these "toolbars" were surreptitiously installed as part of a "drive-by download" with the toolbar provider taking few if any steps to control the behavior of their affiliates. All were well known as "rogue" and stopped by most anti-malware programs, including BOClean.

 Since that time, IAC (the current owner of Ask.com) has changed their policies and practices and have since become "responsible parties." It's happened before with other programs. COMODO did extensive vetting of this toolbar supplier prior to accepting this "toolbar" as now have I. Regardless of their prior activities, they have "changed their ways" and have apparently found that the only way to be accepted is to follow the legitimate requirements of the " internet community."

BOClean, like most other anti-malware programs decides that a "toolbar" is malware if it meets one or more of the following suspicious behaviors, which are not listed in any particular priority:

1.  Installed without the knowledge of the user.
2.  Cannot be removed by either uninstall or control panel.
3.  Reinstalls itself once it has been removed.
4.  Changes system or browser settings without asking permission first.
5.  Redirects page requests to other "sites."
6.  "Spoofs" search sites or other "phishing-like" actions.
7.  Removes other pages and replaces them with "affiliate" pages.
8.  Transmits personal information or reports back to a third party without the permission of the user or some form of prior notification.
9.  Downloads and/or installs other software without permission.
10. Hides itself or other components.
11. Results in noticeable deterioration of browser performance
12. Results in spam.

 There are other "egregious" behaviors I've likely forgotten, but the above are the more serious ones. Any one or more of the above will result in BOClean and most other anti-malware "detecting" any such toolbars or BHO's as malware. However, there are "legitimate" and desireable "add-ons" which can be useful such as the "Google toolbar" or the "Yahoo toolbar" and numerous others which no one would classify as "malicious" or "suspicious" even if they are installed with other software installations.

 I have personally performed a BOCLEAN analysis of the toolbar, subject to the ORIGINAL BOClean "standards" and have determined the following:

1. Notification is given to the user prior to completion of installation and the user has the option of not installing the software.

2. License agreement and privacy notification during installation is given.

3. User can readily decline the installation of the toolbar and other options because they are not hidden or placed beyond an "expert installation mode" and is clearly visible on a "main screen" during the installation.

[0.jpg]


4. The toolbar can be readily uninstalled using "Add/Remove programs" in the control panel and the uninstall is successful after a system reboot has occurred, leaving behind only an "Uninstall Ask Toolbar.dll" in the "Program Files" folder. This file is both visible in the folder, and can be successfully deleted:

[1.jpg]



5. In Internet Explorer, the toolbar can be successfully disabled if the following three settings in Internet Explorer are set to disabled. It does not perform a "zombie reload" if it hasn't been uninstalled if these settings are made in Internet Explorer:

[2.jpg]

 Under Firefox, the toolbar can be disabled by unchecking it as follows:

[3.jpg]

 Obviously if there is concern about this toolbar, then it should be uninstalled using the Add/Remove Programs option in Control Panel (as shown in item #4 above) which assures a complete removal. It will not recur once uninstalled.

6. Behavior analysis of the added toolbar indicates that it does not contain any personally-identifying information, does not create a unique ID within its programs, does not assert itself into any other interactions, and does not do anything unless you enter a search request and submit it to ask.com or click on a button which simply loads the URL into the browser as though it were a bookmark/favorite being clicked on. No other transactions were noted in traffic analysis. Therefore, even with the toolbar present on the browser, if it is not used, no interaction occurs. The individual files, configurations, registry data, and internet traffic were examined to arrive at this determination.

 Conclusion: By BOClean's long-standing standards since 1997, the IAC/Ask toolbar included with COMODO's "Safe Surf" does not constitute malware and therefore does not qualify for detection.
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« Last Edit: April 08, 2009, 03:47:12 PM by Melih »
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Offline Rednose

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2008, 11:05:07 PM »
Kev, you are perfectly right :) But I will always refuse to use a toolbar that is forced to me for whatever reasons, even if that means that I am less protected. I think Comodo should only give you an option to use the toolbar :)

Greetz, Red.

Offline Eric Cryptid

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2008, 04:39:55 AM »
Great analysis Kevin!

People should remember, the can always untick the options during cpf installation and they can separately install Comodo Memory Firewall for BO protection.

P.S. The Ask toolbar can be uninstalled independantly of Comodo Safesurf. Even with the ask toolbar element and therefore no toolbar in the browser you still appear to be protected when running the BO Tester because Comodo Safesurf still runs without the toolbar. :)

 (:m*) (:s*) BoClean Rocks (:s*) (:m*)
« Last Edit: June 28, 2008, 04:42:56 AM by Eric Cryptid »

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2008, 05:44:50 AM »
You can installed CFP with the toolbar and then uninstall Ask.com toolbar. Comodo SafeSurf will still protect your system.

Personally, I believe that it should had been given the user the option to install both Ask.com (to help Comodo) and Comodo SafeSurf separately and not as a bundle. That way only people who feel the need to help Comodo for the great products they make would install Ask.com Toolbar and all the others would only install Comodo SafeSurf. The ones who do not want to use Ask.com and want to use Comodo SafeSurf will waste extra time uninstalling Ask.com Toolbar (also needs to clean the registry as even uninstalling it leaves traces behind). 

Offline Rednose

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2008, 07:19:54 AM »
I know that is a solution boys. But for me it's a matter of principle : Toolbars bundled with software are bloatware, and I will always advise NOT to install them.

Greetz, Red.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2008, 07:31:19 AM by Rednose »

Offline Japo

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2008, 07:45:49 AM »
Kevin you make a lot of sense. (:CLP) We can refer to this topic, not only about this particuar issue, but to answer the FAQ "are toolbars malware yes or no?"
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Offline Rednose

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2008, 08:08:53 AM »
Be careful, there are malware toolbars too. Some even perfectly emulates the functionality of legitimate toolbars.

Greetz, Red.

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2008, 04:02:02 AM »
This is a really good explanation! Good on ya Kevin & keep up the great work you do!  :)  (:CLP)

Made this a sticky  (:m*)

Josh
« Last Edit: June 29, 2008, 04:11:34 AM by 3xist »

Offline aigle

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2008, 05:41:04 AM »
I know that is a solution boys. But for me it's a matter of principle : Toolbars bundled with software are bloatware, and I will always advise NOT to install them.

Greetz, Red.

Exactly right. It,s bad to have a toolbar like this. I am trying to be soft. It,s in Comodo,s benefit indeed. I am sure people who use Comodo FW are such computer savy that naturally very few of them will install a toolbar and ultimately Comdo is not going to get any major benefit money wise even and it might put their repute on stack even.

Offline Kevin McAleavey

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2008, 05:26:24 AM »
 Thanks for the kind words, all! Only motivation I had to write this in the first place is that back in the old PSC days, we knew Donna over at "Calendar of Updates" and we had a great relationship there. I was kind of taken aback by the controversy over COMODO's addition of the "Ask toolbar" in a way that apparently was missed here. I saw this as an entirely different angle than most other "gifts from vendors" in that COMODO went out of its way to make the addition quite noticeable and easily removed if "unintentionally installed" as well as making it QUITE clear during the install that it would be going in in the first place.

 Toolbars have been historically rather difficult to remove, even when they come from so-called "respectable" sites such as Yahoo or Google ... in fact, for anyone who is still upset over the way COMODO handled it, go google "how to remove yahoo toolbar" or "how to remove google toolbar" and see all the grief people have with both of the "majors" in that respect. And of course, if you go to install Firefox, what's in there? I know that "askjeeves" was rogue, that's why BOClean was one of the very first to stand its ground when Viacom's lawyers came after Nancy and I *demanding* that we remove detection for it, and we had to spend a couple of weeks with attorneys outlining the specific "rules" I cited in the first message as our "defense." All of the other vendors backed down where we stood our ground on the issue. Same as we did for many other so-called "legitimate" programs who sent in the lawyers, but still violated our now solid "standards" by which BOClean slices the "malware bologna." Those rules became pretty well defined for us over ten plus years, and what COMODO is providing actually follows those rules 100% of the time as best as our own analysts determine. Compare to googling removing the other two major "respectable" toolbars. That's what tipped the scales for me on this issue - the complaining about COMODO doing it and not the others. And I also forget which other vendor is installing "Ask" without asking (except on the "expert" install) but it's kind of unfair to lump COMODO into that same situation when the delineations are VERY clear and up-front at least with us.

 And now I work on getting my OWN self in trouble since I've not discussed this with Melih, so I'm guessing here as to what I'm about to say. Those who were with BOClean all along might not know that any programmer can write and finish code, put it out there, and make some money. It's VERY different though when you're writing software that has to be updated every day AFTER the sale. We sold lots of copies of BOClean over the years, but there was no recompense for the insane expenses of updating it daily. And this goes for BOClean, the firewall, the AV and everything else COMODO gives away for free. I'm sure having hundreds of people on the payroll, protecting people and working day after day is a pretty significant financial drain on COMODO. Those costs are what put Privacy Software Corp out of business because our expenses continued to outstrip our income for YEARS.  :(

 The same degree of dedication to the need exists at COMODO, and yet the price is still FREE. So I can understand the need to bring in a little more revenue by offering the toolbar - if people use it, it means that *I* can have a few more people and have some time off. I'd see that as pretty nice myself. As I've said, I don't know the circumstances behind all this, but I do understand it from my own perspective. I'm kind of in the dark about all this, and hopefully there's an explanation I am unable to provide. But bottom line, criticism was out there, it kind of honked me off, and so I wrote a book report.  :)

 But wanted to put the angles out there because I don't quite understand what all the hoohah is about, even yet.
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Offline Eric Cryptid

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2008, 07:27:47 AM »
*I*'m using the toolbar and for my searches every so often though I confess to using google as my primary search tool though comodo toolbar is the only toolbar I've got installed.

Comodo really hit the jackpot when you joined the team!

Eric

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Offline Rednose

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2008, 08:26:07 AM »
To Kev :)

The hoohah is about the fact that ( not only in this case, but in general ) you have to install a toolbar to get ( some ) functionality. Why can't Comodo just give an option for ONLY the toolbar ? Why should we install a toolbar TOO to get some functionality, and than uninstall the toolbar AFTERWARDS if we don't want to use the toolbar ? That simply doesn't make sence !

So it is not about making some revenue, at least not for me. I would rather buy a licence, or make a donation, than having this situation.

Greetz, Red.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2008, 08:48:51 AM by Rednose »

Offline Eric Cryptid

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2008, 09:35:21 AM »
Comodo's own stand alone toolbar is due out at some point soon which, as far as I undestand it, will enable the option to install it separately.


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Offline SiberLynx

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2008, 12:17:55 PM »
Hi Guys,

My note or question will be only about
Quote
1. Installed without the knowledge of the user.
and the 1st image.

Initially at the first install of new version offering SS & Toolbar I declined. The boxes as on image #1 were unchecked.

Then I decided that I want to try it and as you know due to the bug with CPF uninstall or subsequent clean installation none of the above are offered anymore. That issue died - nobody knows the answer, Support Ticked forgotten "On Hold" forever....That is different story.

But can anybody tell me where initially when Comodo (stressing that) Toolbar was introduced there was anything said about "Ask"?
Then two weeks later (or even more) after I declined the Toolbar; made several unsuccessful attempts to get "the famous screen #1" back and gave up ... I scanned my system with SpyBot or MBAM (sorry ... cannot tell now precisely what scanner) ... and I found "malware threat" on my computer called Ask.Whatever!!! Hello!  :o

Sure I found it in Add/Remove I uninstalled; I found several leftovers in registry and I cleaned them too; after all I found Ask<something>.dll hanging just on C:\ root !?? - I killed that one too
....Boooring...

My question is - what about point #1 by Kevin? How that could happen?

What kind of knowledge I as a user should  have when I said in the first place "Do Not install Comodo(stressing again) Toolbar and...
I have to Ask myself now: how that Ask could possibly sneak into my system??? that's what I am Asking

Other than that  (R)  Cheers
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Offline SiberLynx

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Re: Analysis of COMODO toolbar by BOClean standards
« Reply #14 on: July 29, 2008, 11:26:38 PM »
Greetings all,
Just wondering. It would be nice to get some responses to my previous post...
unless I am ASKing something, which doesn't have an answer.
Cheers
Main OS - Ubuntu
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Win 7 Ultimate 32bit (UAC off); Emsisoft Internet Security v9 beta

 

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