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Microsoft tightens restrictions on adware on Windows PCs

Apr 07, 20143 mins
Application SecurityBrowsersCybercrime

Adware developers have a new set of Microsoft-imposed guidelines to follow

Starting July 1, developers of adware for Windows will have to contend with new Microsoft-imposed rules aimed at making it easier for people to stop bothersome ads.

In announcing the changes, Microsoft warned developers that ignoring the rules would lead to their programs being detected as adware and “immediately removed from the user’s machine.” The enforcers would be the security products Microsoft ships with Windows, such as Security Essentials and Windows Defender.

Currently, Microsoft’s products notify a user when they identify a program as adware. If the user doesn’t take the recommended action, then the program is allowed to run.

Under the new rules, Microsoft will remove programs that launch ads promoting goods or services in programs other than itself. If everything happens within the program, than Microsoft won’t block the promotion.

Other rule changes include requiring a clearly seen close button for an ad and the name of the program that created it. In addition, a standard uninstall method has to be provided for the program identified in the ad. The latter will make deleting nuisance programs much easier.

While experts viewed the changes positively, they also said the new rules were overdue.

“The rules are a good first step by Microsoft to help mitigate the risks of adware,” Ken Westin, security researcher for Tripwire, said. “However, I do not think it will have a huge impact on the amount of adware.”

Westin pointed out that adware developers tend to be a “sly bunch” with the tenacity to find ways around rules.

“It will be interesting to see the actual affect these new rules and their means of enforcing them will actually have,” he said.

Such steps as requiring the name of advertisers in programs and providing a standard method to remove them seemed basic to privacy consultant Rebecca Herold.

“If they haven’t documented this until now, then it is long overdue,” she said.

Jamz Yaneza, a threat researcher at Trend Micro, believed the changes could “benefit not just consumers, but businesses of all sizes, large and small.”

Microsoft is sensitive to the overall user experience on Windows. If ads are popping up and people have no control to stop them, then users are likely to see the nuisance as a negative to using Windows.

At the same time, Microsoft does not want to prevent developers from the ad-generated revenue necessary to support applications provided at no charge.

The new rules mark a balance that “make it easy for software developers to utilize advertising while at the same time empowering users to control their experience,” Michael Johnson, a researcher at Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center, said in a blog post.

Over the last several years, adware, which has plagued PCs for many years, has spread to mobile devices. Trend Micro found in a report released in September 2012 an increasing number of mobile ad networks placing ads outside of the originating apps, typically in the form of notifications.