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I Chased A Bug Around A Tree
Sep 10, 2001 10:07 AM 4976 Views

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You’ve got the latest Anti Virus software and you feel that you are safe from those little critters. You’ve got a solid firewall up so that nothing can leave your computer without your knowledge and consent and no one can hack into it. You got yourself some Anti Spyware software so that on the off chance that something gets through your defences you can seek it out and immobilise it and you sit back and think, “I’m safe from bugs and no one can spy on me.”


Not quite because there is another route into your ‘impregnable’ machine and so far there is no defence and these are called Web Bugs. Hands up any reader who knew about these Web Bugs before reading this opinion. Until I read an article in Issue 13 of Web User I too would not have known about them although my cynical side suspected that it would only be a matter of time before someone somewhere used HTML as a means of gathering information without the surfers’ knowledge rather than just a plain cookie that can be rejected. If you want to surf and look at web sites your computer has to accept a chunk of HTML code with a few extras like JavaScript and applets and the like thrown in and on your screen pops up the page for you to admire or loathe. If you do not accept all the HTML you do not view the page, it is as simple as that and you cannot select (yet) which part of the HTML to download. The clever people out there have devised a way of incorporating in that HTML code a little something that isn’t just for the weekend but for all time. It is a Web Bug.


A Web Bug is an invisible spy tool planted by the Webmaster that can pass on information to that Webmaster about visitors to the site and also to third parties. You can turn off the banners and cookies that have a similar role in life but you cannot turn off or block a Web Bug. It’s purpose is to pass on your IP address, the order of pages visited, the time of the visit, your browser and other information held in cookies to the Webmaster and in some cases to third parties and it does it invisibly. Such information is not a real threat to your computer except for the IP address. If you are connected 24/7 and you do not have a firewall you can expect a multitude of attacks mainly seeking information but some might be out to sort out your hard drive etc. If like most people you log on for a couple of hours then disconnect then your IP address changes each time that you log on so it is not very likely that you will be the victim of a concerted attack. Except that not very long ago I experienced 30 attacks in the space of just 7 minutes all from the same source. ZoneAlarmPro did its stuff and kept my machine secure. At the time of the attacks I was clocking up cash points on It Pays To Learn. As I said earlier, you cannot do anything about Web Bugs doing their stuff, yet, but you can identify web sites that use them and thus have the option of continuing to visit the bugged sites or not AS YOU CHOOSE.


In some cases you can have the option of e-mailing the Webmaster to lodge your objections. Go to bugnosis.org and download a FREE bit of software that does all the work for you. The site doesn’t look a very professional site but don’t be put off by the appearance as the author of Bugnosis (Stephen Keating) is doing you and me a big favour by bringing this point out into the open and in any case it is easy to navigate your way around and all you need to know about Web Bugs and Bugnosis is to hand. I do not propose to explain things in minute detail, as it would bore the pants off the reader.


If you want to know more, go and visit the web site and read the FAQ’s etc. Download is just a mouse click away and under normal download conditions it will take between five and ten minutes and it installs itself. Currently Bugnosis will only work on Internet Explorer version 5 or greater, running on a Microsoft Windows OS. Once installed you should see a tiny icon on the extreme right of your Explorer tool bar with Bugnosis written underneath. Click on this once and the bottom third of the browser window is utilised for any reports. Right click on the report window to get at options etc. It is in here that you can change the audio alarm to one of your choice using a .wav sound file. Also, scour the web page that you are looking at when a Web Bug report comes in. Somewhere on the page you will find a tiny animated Web Bug. If you are into HTML look at the code pertaining to that particular spot on the screen and you will find the Web Bug code. Yes I did use Bugnosis to check out the Bugnosis site and it doesn’t have any Web Bugs. However some sites will not allow you view them if you do not accept cookies but it is your choice then.


The bottom line is that advertising is a massive business and companies are falling over themselves to get an advert in front of your eyes and some will use fair means or foul.


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