Top universities target malware

A new multi-million dollar "neighborhood watch" for the internet has been set up to help people spot malware before it is loaded onto their computer.

The effort headed up by Harvard and Oxford universities called, is aiming to build up a database of information about downloadable applications based on consumer testimonies. Internet users can use the database to find out if something they are downloading is malware.

"We aim to become a central clearinghouse for research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware," a statement on the website said.

The project defines badware as "malicious software that tracks your moves online and feeds that information back to shady marketing groups so that they can ambush you with targeted ads."

Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute are heading up the initiative with the support of several prominent companies, including Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems. Consumer Reports WebWatch is serving as an unpaid special advisor.

An advisory board and working group has also been set up and is made up of some notables in the industry, including internet pioneers Esther Dyson and Vint Cerf.

"Intruders are now in your house without your permission," said John Palfrey, co-director of and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. "They entered through your computer to bombard you with sneaky pop-ups and install tracking software to spy on your every move and steal your most personal information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers, in order to sell that data to a stranger. will shine a much needed light on the unethical activities of these companies."

The organisation hopes the reports will name and shame shady companies with dubious spyware practices. It also is asking the public to submit their own horror stories on how malware affected their computers.

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