Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rant: On the Demonic Possession of Web Browsers

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there…”
—Luke 11: 24-26

Somewhere in a damp, gloomy foetid underground chamber—previously inhabited by other vermin—an unholy cult of software designers has invoked from darkest cyberspace two demons of chaos and frustration.  By the light of a sputtering torch they have chanted into existence the odious Groovorio and the hateful ClearThink, and sent them marauding across the internet, a twin pestilence of aggravation and dismay.

If your digital existence relies on the latest version of Windows and its associated fine products you may already have experienced manifestations of these two entities. They arrive hidden in bundled downloads of otherwise desirable software—why it pays to be vigilant and to select “custom install” whenever feasible.  But there are probably other pathways to possession, and the evil brethren are persistent and clever.

Groovorio seizes control of the web browser homepage of your default search engine and diverts it to other sites of dubious character.  The image of a cheesy lighthouse motif is a cardinal sign of inhabitation by this evil spirit.  Groovorio seems to meander invisibly along tool bars and pull down menus, jostling downloads to various sites like a computer literate poltergeist.  Its brother ClearThink clutters up your page view with inane pop-up ads that emerge from the left, right and bottom margins, as if entering from offstage.  Sometimes these are accompanied by nerve wracking audio or video phenomena.  The presence of a crucifix seems to have little effect.

ClearThink is the noisier of the two entities, offering lame ads for toys, books, Midwest vacations, financial advice (!), stop action movies, and nutritional products, among others.  Its ads dance and blink provocatively, urging quick decisions on emergency scans or downloads of protective software.  Why would anyone, after being enraged by these spectral intrusions, be interested in purchasing from one of their advertisers?  Are they even real ads?

Though loosely categorized as forms of virus or malware, some in the industry refer to these avatars of Satan by the acronym P.U.P., which stands for the vastly understated “potentially unwanted program”.  Groovorio and ClearThink are PUPs, which sounds more endearing than being identified as two offspring of the Evil One.  That they are “potentially”—as opposed to absolutely—unwanted suggests that somewhere there are customers who in fact do want them. 

Who are these minions?  What do they want to achieve?  The chief aim of Groovorio and ClearThink appears to be boosting advertising revenue by artificially inflating page views at mercantile web sites.  This is accomplished through a process of demonic inhabitation of computer operating systems—one in particular—and popular web browsers.  Metaphorically speaking, both grab the wheel of your car and drive you to places you had no intention of going to.

It is interesting, to this spiritually beleaguered user at least, that Groovorio and ClearThink abideth not the light of Blogger, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Wikipedia, among a few relatively impervious sites.  Yet when visiting all hell breaks loose, as if the demonic brothers share some underlying affinity with the news site, and draw energy and inspiration there.  (To be fair, a similar psychic responsiveness to digital evil may occur at MSNBC as well).

Holy water, protective pentacles, incantations and many commercially available security software products are ineffective against these diabolical brethren.  Exorcism may be achieved by laboriously uninstalling their psychic residue from the Windows “programs and features” list, or expunging their hateful extensions from a favorite browser.  If this fails, some experts recommend using the reset option on browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer, the digital equivalent of urging these systems to repent and shrug off the Devil’s temptations.  (A very helpful website that provides an overview of these and other forms of computer possession, as well as some additional exorcism tips is   

However, as with other nightmarish denizens of darkest cyberspace, these twin demons of digital mayhem are able to mutate, change form and adapt to protective measures.  They are gaining in sophistication and stealth, and left unchecked, will bring about a new Dark Age of computer malfunction and complexity. 

The venders we might turn to for aide are mysteriously ambivalent and complacent about the depredations of Groovorio and ClearThink.  Yet all seem to have available right now an additional product or service that may work for a time, starting at around a hundred bucks.  Who else has benefited from the conjuring of these two malevolent spirits?  (“Things that make you go hmmmm”, as Freedom Williams used to sing back in the early 90s.)

I have kept a quart of Holy Water next to the laptop on my desk.  Should my next attempt at exorcism fail, my intent is to douse the keyboard thoroughly and free the soul of my computer from the clutches of Groovorio and Clearthink, sending its once tormented spirit aloft to cyber-Kingdom Come.  It will be only a symbolic act of course, a token inauguration of the new digital Dark Age unfolding.  Then I will turn my back on it all and return to the simplicity and reliability of paper, pen, and ink.

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