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Executive Editor

FAQ: CNET’s “Trojan” Installer

Dec 07, 20113 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityEnterprise Applications

CNET is under fire for downloading more than just open source software with the open source software that it makes available on its Web site.

It wraps the software in an installer that also alters the browsers on the computers that pull down the open source code, and this has angered many in the open source community as well as others who just don’t like having their browsers messed with when they’re downloading something for free.

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What is CNET up to?

CNET’s download site offers a range of open source tools including anti-virus software, anti-malware, Flash players and Nmap, the open source security scanner. The creator of Nmap, Gordon Lyon, wrote a blog post Monday ripping CNET for wrapping its download of Nmap in an installer that also changes the default search engine to Bing, makes Microsoft MSN the homepage and installs a StartNow toolbar with buttons for Facebook, multimedia search and local weather. It also floats an ad for third-party software in the middle of the install process.

What’s wrong with that?

According to Lyon, it’s a bad thing. He writes: “Then the next time the user opens their browser, they find that their computer is hosed with crappy toolbars, Bing searches, Microsoft as their home page, and whatever other shenanigans the software performs! The worst thing is that users will think we (Nmap Project) did this to them!”

Anything else?

Lyon again: “In addition to the deception and trademark violation, and potential violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, this clearly violates Nmap’s copyright.”

What bad things does this do to your computer?

Nothing destructive has been reported.

But there’s talk of malware and Trojans. Isn’t that bad?

The Web site Virus Total says that 22,524 of its members describe the CNET-wrapped Nmap as malware. Malware scans by security companies including F-Secure, McAfee and Panda identify the installer as a Trojan.

How long has this been going on?

CNET started using the installer in July.

Why is it getting all this attention now?

Mainly because Lyon’s bluntly worded blog post caught a lot of attention. “F**k them!” he writes. “If anyone knows a great copyright attorney in the U.S., please send me the details or ask them to get in touch with me.”

What can I do to avoid it?

There’s an opt-out button on the download page. Part of Lyon’s beef is that many people trust CNET’s download page and skip right over the opt-out notification.

Why would CNET do this?

On its FAQ page, CNET says: “By downloading with the Installer the user is guaranteed that the file they install on their system came directly from Only software that is tested spyware-free and hosted on’s secure servers may be delivered via the Installer.

“In addition, thanks to the clear steps provided by the Installer, the percentage of users who are able to complete the download process increases significantly when using the Installer for their downloads.

“Finally, is supported primarily by advertising, and we include offers for additional downloads from advertisers as part of our Installer process. Unlike other download sites that employ similar ad-supported technologies, however, our Installer is limited to a single offer that is carefully screened to ensure compliance with the Software Policies.”

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