Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Spyware as an ecosystem problem

Wendy Seltzer has been thinking about spyware as an ecosystem problem and so, it seems, have the good folks at the Berkman Center. is a "Neighborhood Watch" campaign aimed at fighting badware. We will seek to provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their computers. We aim to become a central clearinghouse for research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and to become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware.
Ms Seltzer says:

"The Internet has always been a playground of externalities. It's useful to me because of what others contribute, so what makes it easier for others to participate increases Internet value. Consider blogging software. Technically, it's trivial, a few lines of code to post updates to a web page and a few more to 'trackback' other sites you've referenced. Yet the "blogosphere" (the web) was far poorer when its only writers were those techie enough to write their own sites from the webserver up.

So by converse, when malware or its threat drives some people away from the Internet, it decreases the Net value for us all. We lose travel guides when those who introduce us to new sites stop exploring because they fear "infection." Our social networks crumble when connectors stop opening email from unknown senders. And when our ISPs or lawmakers step in to "help," they can make things worse, blocking legitimate applications that users have opted for.

The Berkman Center's project, subtitled "Regaining control of our computers," targets the weeds without razing the garden. It focuses squarely on the user, inviting people to contribute their experiences to a database, against which others will be able to compare new applications they encounter. Let's hope it can help us to defend the Internet against both "badware" and its over-zealous opponents."

Update: I should have added that the widespread infestation of malware is why we created a ten-week online course at the Open University, Vandalism in Cyberspace: understanding and combatting malicious software, to help people deal with it.

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