Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Diabolical Dialer

Screenshot of a dailer program trying to install itself Today I had probably my first run in with a dialer. These are programs which either ask to be installed as an ActiveX control, or just forcibly install themselves using flaws in Internet Explorer. Once installed, they silence your modem’s speaker, disconnect you and then redial to another number, which is usually premium rate and often offshore too. Often, the first someone knows about them is when their phone bill arrives at the end of the month.
This happened on a housemate’s computer – I’ve managed to avoid them myself because I’ve always been security-conscious, and having not used IE as my main browser for the best part of two years must have helped too.
The scary thing is that I’m unsure what specifically triggered it – I fired up IE and then navigated to Windows Update, and then it appeared. KaZaA Lite K++ was running in the background. The machine had all but the most recent critical updates (automatic updates had been turned on) and was only lacking a few ‘recommended’ and driver updates. In any case, I’ll be running the ‘usual suspects’ (Ad-Aware, Spybot S&D and latterly SpywareBlaster) over it.
Update: According to ICSTIS, the UK premium rate watchdog, the company running that number is under investigation for possible breaking of the industry code of conduct. Hmmm.
What was worse is that when you clicked No, it popped up a JavaScript alert that told you to click ‘Yes’, then reopened the dialog. There was no way to get rid of the dialog short of closing IE or clicking ‘Yes’ and installing the program. Thankfully, Windows XP SP2 fixes this. And in any case, the modem isn’t attached to a phone line other than through an ADSL modem so it wouldn’t have made any difference.
On a related note, if any of you are running Windows XP, please turn on Automatic Updates. Service Pack 2 is coming soon (finally!) and by switching this on you will be guaranteed to get it when it comes out.

7 Comments

  1. I get those all the time. If I click NO enough it will go away, usually 5 or 6 times.
    Annoying, yes?
    Although.. I don’t ever recall anything being said about being charged… I hope I never get those. And yes, I keep up to date diligently on everything updatable.

  2. automatic updates – yes.
    xp service pack2 on day of release on automatic updates – nooooooooooooooooo…..bad idea.
    I guess its not too bad on a home computer but could be catastrophic on a business lan. The testing done (by others) in our business has had many blue screens and apps fail to work – therefore we’re going to wait a couple of weeks/month before starting to roll it out.
    I’m hoping none of my friends install sp2 straight away – I need a chance (on a sacrificial comp) to test it out first.

  3. Andy – SP2 isn’t that bad. I’ve been running it at home for a few weeks and on two work machines without any problems (and that includes v5.windowsupdate.microsoft.com ).

  4. Wow, that’s a kind of obvious ActiveX prompt.
    I concur, SP2 is great. I actually don’t notice I’m running it, besides the fact StyleXP doesn’t work any more and I’m stuck with the Windows Classic theme.

  5. Will Spybot, Ad-aware, AVG and Zone Alarm keep me safe? I run IE6, Avant and Mozilla. (since you keep pushing it so hard)
    I’ll commit to one of the browsers eventually, particularly as IE seems so full of holes.
    Win 98 is all I have, my PC wont run anything more modern.

  6. Andy: That should be fine. Certainly your machine will be far more secure than at least 95% of the other computers in the world.
    Other Andy: Richy’s right, SP2 is pretty good. There may be application incompatibilities so you’re probably best testing it out for a couple of weeks.

  7. I have to disagree, I ran SP2 RC2 a while ago, just to give it a spin, and the thing did nothing short of screwing up some of my programs. Well, to be honest, Kazaa quit working ;-). It just feigned to start up, then vanished into thin air! No trace in the task manager or anywhere else.
    Besides that, the Windows Firewall was pretty annoying, and if I recall correctly, Skype had trouble running because of it.
    Anyway, I don’t believe SP2 is necessary for folks that are security aware (like me) or simply that don’t use IE (duh), and I realize it _is_ a great tool for the average user. I just wouldn’t recommend it myself ;-).