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Let's start at the beginning with this company called Digsby that creates this cutesy IM tool that is so cute many will just have to install it.
The problem is that Digsby has something built-in that allows your computer to become part of some idle CPU processing computing network.
Do you read all that fine print?
Most people don't, they skip through it NEXT NEXT NEXT just install this thing.
Here's the fun part of the "Digsby Research Module":
The module turns on after your computer has been completely idle for 5 minutes (no mouse or keyboard movement). It then turns off the instant you move your mouse or the press a key on the keyboard
Basically, if you install Digsby, they can hijack your CPU idle time for fun and profit including WEB CRAWLING!
Here's what they say right in their TOS:
15. USAGE OF COMPUTER RESOURCES.
You agree to permit the Software to use the processing power of your computer when it is idle to run downloaded algorithms (mathematical equations) and code within a process. You understand that when the Software uses your computer, it likewise uses your CPU, bandwidth, and electrical power. The Software will use your computer to solve distributed computing problems, such as but not limited to, accelerating medical research projects, analyzing the stock market, searching the web, and finding the largest known prime number. This functionality is completely optional and you may disable it at any time.
Of course they like to wrap themselves in charitable terms such as cancer research, that must be a good thing, no?
Emphasis on stock market analysis and web search is mine, far cry from cancer research huh?
Some people really don't like Digsby:
It Gets Even Worse: Your PC is Being Used Without Your Knowledge
You can debate the merits of bundled crapware, and brush away the despicable nature of preying on those lacking adequate tech skills, but did you realize that Digsby is also using your processor to make money?
These guys are building out monetization methods for the Digsby network.
80legs is a good customer to talk about as an example because they’ve taken the compute power we give them, and they’ve built something pretty cool on top. 80legs is itself a startup, and they provide a Web-scale crawling and processing service.
Disclosure: Plura and 80legs share an investor, and 80legs has been of great help to us as a guinea pig
Lets you crawl up to 2 billion pages a day using the PCs of less than savvy computer owners.
80legs runs on a 50,000-node grid computer. This means we have a whole lot of bandwidth and compute power for you to use. The system as a whole can crawl up to 2 billion pages per day. Our unique architecture gives us (and our users) inherent advantages when it comes to crawling the web.
Do the math here:
2B pages per day / 50K computers = 40K pages per computer per day!
Assuming average web pages are about 20K these days that's 800MB downloaded per PC per day and if you include images, flash files and pdf's in this crawl using way over 1GB per PC per day is trivial.
Potential Consumer Impact
Considering most cable companies now have a fixed cap on your usage or if you're using a wireless broadband card that has a 5GB cap and no longer offers unlimited data, people are going to be paying for this usage.
Rogers Cable in Canada for instance has a 60GB cap but you can order lower bandwidth plans for Grandma called the "Ultra Lite" with a 2 GB monthly cap and $5.00 per additional GB. Imagine when Grandma, someone that probably has a very idle computer, installs Digsby and has a potential $150 excess bandwidth bill the next month! Grandma will definitely need her blood pressure medicine increased.
Potential Webmaster Concerns
Home computer users with Digsby installed may suddenly find their access restricted to many websites. The problem here is bot blocking software may already be temporarily suspending access to sites for the PCs of these hapless users and if 80legs is successful, the bot blocking battles will shift from data centers to actual home PCs, a massive transition in mind share in the bot blocking world.
This isn't just theory, it's already happened on some of my own sites. A couple of visitors wrote wanting to know why they were being restricted and I sent them a log file of a high speed crawl of 100s of pages and they denied any knowledge of this activity. While we don't know the source of this crawl yet, this is an example of what you can potentially expect moving forward if you have any anti-DOS software running on your site and 80legs comes knocking.
More importantly, stealth crawling will have reached a new pinnacle of unlimited penetration never before thought possible thanks to 80legs and Digsby's software.
If the experience with Amazon Web Services [webmasterworld.com] can be used as a guideline, I can foresee collecting and distributing lists of Digsby's and 80legs customers for webmasters to block may be in near the future.
Guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.
..and the actual initiation of your policy hasn't happened yet ..
Actually, Plura has sent out a notice to their affiliates that notifies them of the change in the TOS. As I mentioned before, Digsby is working on a new installer. I don't know enough about the goings-on to know when that will be coming, but I have no reason to believe it won't be soon.
your installations will trip all the AV's
I guess it's necessary to repeat: Plura isn't an installed application.
On a side note.. while Plura may not be curing cancer right now (hopefully it will help one day), it is helping fight poverty. Some of its affiliates are charityware applications, which allow converting CPU cycles into charitable donations. The biggest one right now is Superdonate.
[edited by: incrediBILL at 4:53 pm (utc) on Sep. 11, 2009]
[edit reason] removed URL, see TOS #13 [webmasterworld.com...] [/edit]
I guess it's necessary to repeat: Plura isn't an installed application.
[edited by: incrediBILL at 5:19 pm (utc) on Sep. 11, 2009]
[edit reason] clean up [/edit]
If someone hacks the code they distribute and figures out how to make each Digsby PC generate an HTTP request, finding the IPs of most of the Digsby network will be childs play thanks to 80legs broadcasting their IPs when it crawls.
Therefore, if someone can figure out how to breach their protocol and bring the Digsby botnet under their control, you could easily use 50K to 200K PCs to bring down some serious financial services or worse.
What's even more troublesome is the typical type of user that would install Digsby in the first place usually isn't too discriminating about what they install or too savvy about their PC and probably have an infected PC already so even if it's not the Digsby network causing the problem.
If another botnet deploys code that can detect machines with Digsby installed they could actually fake taking over the 80legs crawler and launch an attack spoofing 80legs user agent as the source of the attack.
I sure wouldn't want to be the one grilled after such a botnet spoof attack and try to explain to the FBI, NSA and DHS that it wasn't me!
[edited by: incrediBILL at 6:00 pm (utc) on Sep. 11, 2009]
The new installer will notify the user about Plura during the install process and let user specify bandwidth % to use (as well as CPU %).
That's a bit more legitimacy for sure.
However, what about the 50K - 200K machines already in the network?
1. 80legs has customers who want crawling done.
2. Plura has affiliates
3. Somewhere in the mix CPU cycles are converted to donations
Money is made in all three above.
What do the users get? Higher electrical bills, potential for bandwidth costs
What do the webmasters get? Nada benefit of new visitors, higher electrical bills, potential for bandwidth costs.
No money is made AND there are COSTS INCURRED for no benefits.
Gotta love these "redistribute the wealth" programs. This one makes sure everybody else bears the work and costs instead of those who benefit from it.
VOLUNTEERING systems and resources is one thing.
VOLUNTEERING systems and resources for another's profit is something else.
OBTAINING use of systems and resources via "freebie" software is one thing (and it's not "free")
OBTAINING use of systems and resources without providing benefit to the webmasters is despicable.
The "clarity" of 80legs business is about a clear as Mississippi mud to me, and that, along with all the above, will be banned.
I don't like bot nets. I particularly dislike commercial bot nets. Especially those which do not directly benefit me as a webmaster in some form or another.
71.62.229.** - - [30/Sep/2009:09:04:33 -0700] "GET /robots.txt HTTP/1.1" 200 4219 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; 008/0.83; [80legs.com...] Gecko/2008032620"
This just in: A new, apparently digsby-related, robots.txt-ignoring thing:
All it took, all it requested, was favicon.ico. WHOIS says the Host IP (Ruralinet) is in Miami, OK.
Again just hit favicon.ico.
Hmm. This appears to be the so-called "favicon fetcher" referred to by a "Digsby Developer" named "mike" on their Digsby Forum almost exactly a year ago. (2008-11-06; Google the UA -- top result; scroll down.)
So they're fetching favicons -- why?
Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; 008/0.83; http://www.80legs.com/spider.html;) Gecko/2008032620
I hate botnets.