McAfee anti-virus enables employee monitoring

Big Brother signs your pay cheque, after all

Network Associates anti-virus division McAfee has decided to stop scanning for a Trojan called NetBus Pro, made by UltraAccess Networks, which allows a third party to invade and take complete control over someone else's computer.

Little more than a dressed-up hacker's toy, the NetBus Trojan is euphemistically called a "remote administration tool" by its maker. It enables a remote 'administrator' to do anything s/he wishes on a target machine with considerable stealth.

These invasive activities include logging the user's key strokes, taking regular screen shots of whatever the user is viewing, retrieving their cached passwords, examining browser bookmarks, perusing e-mail messages and address books, activating the victim's microphone and Web-cam without their knowledge and intercepting their signals, and viewing, editing, executing, uploading or deleting files.

NetBus is a favourite toy of malicious hackers and script kiddies because of its economical price ($15) and ease of use. A GUI and HTTP support enable any pitiful lamer who can operate a Web browser to use the tool. The NetBus server can be joined to another file and fed to a victim over the Internet as a Trojan.

Beyond malicious hacking and mischievous pranks, the only conceivable use for a Trojan like this is to enable employers to monitor their employees' use of company machines. This surveillance could easily extend to laptops, which can be monitored whenever the user connects to the Internet or a company intranet.

It would appear that McAfee wishes to cooperate with the efforts of employers to monitor computer use surreptitiously. Previously, the anti-virus software would warn a user that their computer was infected with the NetBus Trojan, as well as its notorious cousins, Back Orifice and Sub7.

McAfee customers can no longer rely on the software to discover if their machines are infected.

For UltraAccess the issue is fairness. Not fairness to computer users, but fairness in selling spyware. Because there exist other applications which enable similar invasions of privacy, and which are not detected by anti-virus software, UltraAccess feels it should profit from this loathsome practice as well.

"There are many other software programs of similar nature that are not scanned for," UltraAccess CEO Judd Spence said in a press release. "NetBus Pro is a totally legitimate remote administration tool and at only $15 a copy, it's less than one-tenth the price of some of our big-name competitors such as PCAnywhere from Symantec."

McAfee "recently repealed its unjust ban of NetBus Pro 2.10," UltraAccess says. "With the recent... decision, we would like to move forward with other anti-virus companies and begin developing solid working relationships with them as well."

It is advisable for those who use workplace computers, whether desktop or laptop, to acquaint themselves with all known 'remote administration tools' and either disable them, or, at a minimum, be extremely cautious when using Big Brother's machines.

The Register contacted both UltraAccess and McAfee asking them to explain why a computer user might not wish to be alerted to the presence of a hidden server. Neither replied. ®

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