UPDATED at 3:30PM, 4:30PM Friday, May 16.
Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- The days of computer users claiming virus problems were strictly a PC-only problem are gone.
More and more OS X users are falling victim to various Adware and Spyware infections, though still less so than Microsoft Windows-based computers.
Most Adware and Spyware infections happen when Mac or PC users install some computer programs developed by third party programmers, called "Freeware," and some examples are video downloaders, file converters, or used to generate PDF files.
In one case noted by makers of free Adware removal software Bitdefender, an Adware application known as "Genieo" becomes bundled with very popular freeware applications users install on their Mac- and PC-based computers.
After installation on a Mac, Genieo hijacks the web browser's start page to their own search engine; and after users search for something, Genieo then will present "contextual advertising" as search results, also known as affiliate links (read: search results placement paid to Genieo from advertisers) within the displayed search results.
Granted every time a computer user conducts a search on Google, a similar contextual advertising search result is presented, though Google clearly marks those as Ads. From a Mac or Windows computer infected with the Genieo Adware, after a search the Adware will send search information back to Genieo's servers for indexing.
On Windows computers, the Adware deploys a rootkit component that acts like a watchdog: it makes sure the browser plugin starts with their own search engine so that, even if the user attempts to uninstall the plugin, it would be automatically restored. Even if the user successfully rids the Windows-based system of this Adware application, the modified search settings will not be restored until the user manually restores them to the default values.
"Adware has become a major issue on all operating systems, regardless of their vendor, mostly because potentially unwanted applications are frequently bundled with very popular freeware programs," said Catalin Cosoi, Chief Security Strategist at Bitdefender.
The programmers at Bitdefender have a free Mac OS X Adware removal tool that will detect and remove all elements of the Genieo Adware, and restore the web browser settings. They intend to expand the scope of this Adware removal tool, with additional functions and features in the near future.
The free Adware removal tool for Mac is available free on their website at http://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/adware-removal-tool.html, along with a full line of free Virus, Adware, and Spyware scanners for desktop and mobile devices, available at http://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/.
Follow Derry London on Twitter @Derry_London
Following the online publication of this article and recorded video, the CEO of Genieo.com wrote a response on their blog, clarifying their software does not fall into the traditional web browser "hijacker" category, in that they seek approval from users that install their program.
Traditional browser hijacking occurs when browser extensions take over without a user's knowledge, and in the case of Genieo.com's software, users are asked for permission for changes made.
Genieo's CEO stated that the intent of their software is to help people get caught up on news pertinent to them in the online world with ease, in an aggregated newsfeed based upon browsing behavior. The CEO went on to state they do not populate with 'contextual advertising,' however does say they add three display ads on their 'personalized startpage,' yet did not define how they keep track of a user's online behavior and interests to generate this 'personalized startpage.'
One can find user forums with long threads regarding issues when people try to remove the Genieo software, along with dozens of pleas for help in removing the software, dating back more than two years.
The software is still available for download through a number of websites, including C|Net.com, where it's listed as a 'Newsreader' – and where users have given the software a low rank of 1 star. Also noted online in support forums is users inability to easily and successfully navigate the removal tool provided by Genieo, including the removal tool's own failures to remove Genieo's original installations.
Since Thursday afternoon's publishing of this article, in under 24-hours more than 1,000 users successfully removed the Genieo.com software from their computers, according to Bitdefender.
In speaking with the head of development at Bitdefender's Romanian headquarters, he reports that their own research turned up numerous posts regarding the removal tool provided by Genieo failing to function properly.
We appreciate Genieo.com CEO Sol Tzvi reaching out to provide this response regarding users of their program, and their removal tool:
We are about to release even a better and easier uninstaller in few weeks.
We have millions of users that use Genieo every month, not all of them love what we do, but there are millions that do enjoy the benefit of our technology.
I can assure you that we will continue to improve ourselves and listen to all (that) feedback.