Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hewlett Packard’s Mischievous Spyware

A little while back I bought myself a sleek new Hewlett Packard laptop. It’s a great machine, my only complaint is the virus known as Microsoft Windows Vista it came invested with.

Windows Vista is the worst operating system I have ever used, in my over 20-years of working with computers and their operating systems.

I’m slowly working out solutions for Vista’s many bugs (Microsloth calls these “features”) and then a new one pops up from HP itself.

For the past couple of days, every so often I’d get an annoying pop-up window asking me if I had purchased an extended service contract from HP. I don’t usually purchase these things, as I find they cost too much, and they usually run out just as everything needs to be replaced anyway.

The first time this pop-up hit me, I figured by clicking the “Not interested” option, would make it disappear, never to be seen again.

I was wrong – it appeared again later that day. So, I clicked “not interested” and thought that must be the end of that.

Nope. It kept popping up ever so often and no matter which option I chose, it would re-appear later on.

So, being the computer geek that I am, I did some thinking as to why this might be happening.

I immediately ran a full system virus check, and spyware check – though I run these daily anyways, maybe something recently hacked my system.

Nothing turned up – so I was safe in some regards. Viruses and spyware are nasty things to find, and just as nasty to remove.

Turns out, eventually I found the cause of this nagging popup, and it sure surprised me. It was an intentional ploy from HP to get me to contact them.

Within the control panel for Windows, there is a section called “Task Scheduler” which allows you to automate various system routines. I use the Task Scheduler to automate virus scans, hard drive optimizations and other routine maintenance tasks.

I found that HP had pre-configured my Task Scheduler with three tasks, designed to go off automatically after a set period of time, and continue non-stop every 30-minutes until deleted by the user!

Most people don’t venture into the Task Scheduler on their own, so HP would probably get a call from every customer, asking about how come their brand new computer keeps asking them to sign up for an extended service plan. This way, even if you don’t want to talk to them about why you don’t need it or want it, you have to call them to find out how to disable their nag message.

Or at least, that appears to be their ploy. It didn’t work on me, because I do know a lot about computers, Windows, and I was able to disable it myself.

However, I was shocked to find that a major systems manufacturer would stoop to such an unethically low level, to lure in more money from their already paying customers.

I paid a good piece of change for my laptop – so they’ve already received my share of revenue. I know they make more on service contracts, but to slip in their own version of malicious code into their own machines is pure evil.

Although their nag program does no harm to the computer, it is still malicious code – it nags you every half-hour regardless of what you do. The only way to disable it, is to delete it from the Task Scheduler.

So, you could be playing your favourite game, writing a report for work, chatting with a friend online, or anything else, and all of a sudden, you’d be interrupted with a window which you’d see again, and again, and again.

We all have heard talk about the big evil corporations out there, out for world domination. Maybe we should add Hewlett Packard to that list of evil mega corporations hell bent on dominating the world?

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