Date:         Wed, 29 Aug 2001 00:18:59 -0400
Sender:       The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
From:         Bob Rankin 
Subject:      TOURBUS - 28 Aug 01 - KaZaa and TopText
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              TOURBUS Volume 7, Number 11 -- 28 Aug 2001
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                     TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: KAZAA
In last week's issue, I wrote about the demise of Napster.  Right
about that time, I started hearing some interesting stories about
KaZaa, a file-sharing program that lets you download MP3 music files,
just like the good old days with Napster.  But will downloading
KaZaa also infect your computer with an Evil Virus?  Read on to find
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There's a lot of hysterical ranting surrounding the Kazaa software.
Here's the scoop...  Kazaa Media Desktop is a free Windows program
that lets people share music files, similar to the now-defunct Napster
service.  According to the stats at, over 8.6 million
people have downloaded Kazaa.  Aside from the fact that KaZaa's
primary function is to facilitate the distribution of illegally-copied
MP3 files, it's not a virus and doesn't do anything to harm your
The problem is that when you download and install KaZaa, you also get
another program called TopText.  Experienced users who pay very close
attention to the prompts during KaZaa the installation can uncheck a
box to avoid having TopText installed, but the box is pre-checked.
Most people are used to accepting all the default prompts when
installing software, so they end up with TopText.
==> So What is TopText?
TopText is not a virus.  But TopText *is* evil.  TopText is software
made by Ezula, Inc. that scans the web pages you view as they are
loaded into the Internet Explorer browser.  (TopText does not affect
Netscape users.) When TopText sees certain keywords, it creates a link
from that word to an advertiser that has paid Ezula.  Why is this bad?
 + TopText causes your browser to run slower because it has to scan
   each page looking for keywords, and check with the Ezula server to
   see if it should create an advertising link for each word.
 + TopText modifies the content of web pages with permission, and
   website owners have no way of knowing that a third party is
   replacing words or links on their site with links to other sites.
 + The links added by TopText may redirect visitors to other sites
   which are objectionable to the visitor and/or the site owner.  For
   example, a child using a browser with TopText installed may visit
   PBS's Barney website, click on the word "love" and end up at a porn
 + When TopText links steal traffic from honest web sites, they can't
   generate the income they need to survive.
==> Hype and Speculation
 + Rumors abound that TopText sends private information about your
   online activities back to Ezula.  As far as I know, this is pure
 + I've also heard that if you uninstall TopText, it will re-install
   itself the next time you log on to the internet.  This didn't
   happen to me, but it's possible that older versions of TopText had
   this nasty feature.
==> KaZaa: Good or Evil?
The makers of KaZaa get paid by Ezula when people use TopText, but you
can use KaZaa without TopText.  If you downloaded KaZaa and got
TopText as a result, you can click on My Computer -> Control Panel ->
Add/Remove Programs, then select TopText from the list and press the
Add/Remove button.
But that doesn't absolve KaZaa from blame for foisting this menace on
people in the first place.  Factor in the idea that KaZaa exists
primarily to enable the distribution of pirated music, and you have to
wonder if it's a good idea to be associated with a company that places
ethics somewhere near the bottom of their priority list.
You should also be on the lookout for programs that come bundled with
Surf+, another utility similar to TopText.  Just a few weeks ago,
Microsoft was severely criticized for trying to include Smart Tags (a
feature almost identical to TopText) into Windows XP.  As a result
they dropped their plans to do so.  If Microsoft was forced to admit
that link-hijacking is a bad idea, then hopefully the tide of public
and legal opinion will soon turn against TopText, Surf+ and its ilk.
For extra credit, read these related news stories:
   CNET : Peer-to-peer exchanges court advertisers 
   MSNBC : Keyword software raises ire 
==> Anti-Scumware Tools For Webmasters
Are you a webmaster angry about the hijacking of your visitors by
Surf+ and TopText? Ezula is adamantly refusing requests to prevent
TopText from affecting individual sites, but there are ways to
insulate your site from the effects of these programs, and alert your
visitors to the presence of "scumware" on their computers.
The folks at figured out that TopText and Surf+ can be
foiled if you add a bit of Javascript code to your pages that causes
them to reload.  Look here for details: 
Taking things one step further, the Developer Dispatch offers a
snippet of code which will detect TopText or Surf+ and display a
warning to your visitors. 
I added this code to the TOURBUS website, so you can click below to
test your computer for the presence of either Surf+ or TopText.  
That's all for now.  I'll see you next time!  --Bob Rankin
=====================[ Tourbus Rider Information ===================
   The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2238
     Copyright 1995-2001, Rankin & Crispen - All rights reserved
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TOURBUS - 28 AUG 01 - KaZaa and TopText, viruses, hoaxes, urban legends, search engines, cookies, cool sites
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