How Freeware Can Cost You BIG

by Carl Weiss

Especially in today’s economy, most people are searching for deals.  Whether it is a buy-one-get-one at the grocery store, or an online coupon that offers fifty percent or more off your next restaurant visit, most people are only too happy to snap up a bargain for something they would normally purchase.  When it comes to acquiring software for the home computer, this rule is even more prevalent.  Why pay for the cow, when they’re giving the milk away for free, right?  In the case of recognized vendors, such as Filezilla or Linux, not to mention CNet and Tucows, these sites either own the software they distribute freely, or else the vet any vendors promoted on their sites.  Unfortunately, when it comes to freeware, there are a number of purveyors who are not offering their software out of the goodness of their hearts. 

If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Case in point: Last November, an FBI investigation led to the arrest of six cybercriminals in Estonia.  The six were implicated in a worldwide criminal enterprise that resulted in the infection of more than 570,000 computers.  In this particular case, the group’s online advertising scam took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system to install malicious software on the victim's computers. The software also turned off antivirus updates and changed the way in which the hacked computers reconciled website addresses.  Victim’s computers were then reprogrammed to use rogue DNS servers owned by the attackers which redirected the affected computers to fraudulent websites controlled by the group. The victims were not only scammed out of some $14 million, but their very access to the Internet was virtually hijacked by the group.

More frightening still is the fact that online scams like this happen to millions of unsuspecting consumers every day.  Whether the intent is to deliver malware, spyware or some form of virus, the very nature of the web allows mischief to spread far and wide with relative ease. 

Only recently, Consumer reports stated that, Malicious software infections cost consumers $2.3 billion in 2011.”  They also pointed out the fact that one third of households surveyed had experienced a malicious software infection in the past year.  Even more ominous is the fact that in the US alone, 1.3 million PCs were replaced in 2011 due to malware.

Does WWW stand for Wild, Wild West?

Why are criminals and other online miscreants able to inflict such damage to so many people with relative ease?  The culprits most were cited as aiding and abetting the underworld can’t be found on a “Most Wanted” poster.  That’s because they aren’t people.  The real accomplices in cybercrime are poor virus protection and freeware.  When you bear in mind that the Internet is in a sense as free and unfettered as the Wild, Wild West ever was, it should come as no surprise that criminal elements have been quick to capitalize on this electronic frontier town.  The problem with the web is that unlike Dodge City, there is no sheriff in town other than the antivirus software on your machine.  This same software can easily be circumvented with one Trojan horse planted inside your computer via freeware.  Once your computer has been breached, there is no electronic posse that is going to pursue the outlaws who have infected your machine.

So, the first step to taking a bite out of cybercrime is to understand just how prevalent it is.  What most people don’t realize is the fact that the total amount of money lost in cybercrime in 2011 ($338 billion) dwarfs that of that of the profits of illicit drugs ($288 billion).  More shocking still is the fact that in the past year alone, more than 431 million adults were victims of cybercrime.  While the number of violent crimes in the US declined 6.4 percent in 2011 according to the FBI, cybercrime has risen dramatically.

According to, “Five years ago there were only 92,000 strains of malware cataloged worldwide. This figure rose to 14 million by 2008 and 60 million by 2010.”

Their report goes onto say that you can purchase bank details for accounts for $80 to $700. You can hire someone to design and publish a fake online store for between $30 and $300. A credit card-cloning machine costs $200 to $1,000, and an actual fake ATM, which steals valuable credentials from anyone who uses it, can be bought for a mere $3,500.  The cybercrime industry acts just like any legitimate one, developing providers who cater to buyers needs and strive to build market share.

More frightening still is the fact that so many consumers make these crimes so easy to commit.  Even though most web surfers are familiar with such threats as computer viruses and malware, more than forty percent of those surveyed by Consumer Report admitted to not having an up to date antivirus program.  And an even higher percentage admitted to employing weak passwords.  Add to this the fact that cybercrime has now gone mobile where there is even less security and you have to ask yourself why isn't everyone up in arms over the situation?

What it boils down to is this:
1.      Cybercriminals are organized and motivated to engage in cybercrime because it is easy to get away with and hard to prosecute.
2.      Consumers who routinely triple lock their doors and have burglar alarms on their cars for the most part leave their computers and cellphones unlocked, or with the key under the doormat.
3.      While organizations like the FBI occasionally get involved in high profile cases such as the Estonian Connection, policing the internet at the local level is for the most part left to local law enforcement, many of whom have little or no facilities to deal with this growing menace.

Far from free, that gift horse could well turn around and bite you. In short, since it has been left to consumers to defend themselves from phishing, password cracking, Trojan horse hacking, all but invisible cybercriminals, my advice is to think twice before accepting most freeware.  And for God’s sake, get some decent antivirus software.  Unless you like buying a new computer every year.

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group, a company dedicated to keeping clients stay on the cutting edge of online technology.  Carl is cohost of the weekly Working the Web to Win radio show that is broadcast live every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern on

What Does the Public’s Uncontrollable App-etite Mean to You?

“There’s an app for that.”  How many times have we all heard that phrase during the past couple of years?  Allow me to put it into better perspective for you.  During the last week of 2011, 1.2 billion apps were downloaded, with 242 million apps being downloaded on Christmas day alone.  While that number may seem staggering, it is even more so when one considers that less than 11 billion apps were downloaded in all of 2010.  Add to that the fact that it is predicted that the number of mobile apps offered by companies will increase by a factor of 10 in 2012, and it is clear that the public’s App-etite is clearly uncontrollable.

FACT: As of December 2011, there were nearly 1 million applications available to the public, with nearly 2,000 new apps being published on a daily basis.

While some apps are pay to play, where consumers are charged a few dollars to download and use them, a vast number of them are given away for free. ..or, are they?  While an app may be free to download, that doesn’t mean the app developer isn’t looking to cash in. 

For example: A recent Wall Street Journal article that examined 100 of the most popular Facebook apps found that some apps seek not only the email addresses, current location and sexual preference of users, but also of their Facebook friends. One Yahoo service powered by Facebook requests access to a person's religious and political leanings as a condition for using it. The popular Skype service for making online phone calls seeks the Facebook photos and birthdays of its users and their friends.

What the article didn’t reveal is that the WSJ isn’t immune from this phenomenon, since its own app, WSJ Social, collects data from its subscribers, including profile information, email address and the ability to post an update whenever a subscriber reads an article.

While you may recall the recent firestorm raged over Google’s new privacy policy, no one seemed to mind that other search engines, social networks, affiliate marketers and app purveyors were busy at work collecting, analyzing and selling our personal information as well.  Perhaps the reason that so many journalists were asleep at the switch with regards to sweeping changes taking place in cyberspace is due to the fact that until recently the ability to collect and control vast amounts of personal information about every man, woman and child online was a non-starter.  Of course, this was in a time before most people were wired to the web 24/7 via a host of devices capable of transmitting information at will.
Let’s face it, capitalizing on personal data has never been easier or more lucrative.  Facebook, which is slated to go public in May to the tune of $100 billion or more, is hip deep in turning personal data into gold.  When it comes to collecting personal information, social networks in general and Facebook in particular are king.  From the get go when you sign up for a social network, you are asked a myriad of questions concerning everything from your age and sex, to likes, dislikes, movies and books you have seen and read, photos, videos and much more.  Then you are encouraged to share even more personal information on a daily basis about yourself and your friends.  Last but not least, you are expected to willingly proselytize the network to friends and family.  That in effect is the very essence of social networking.  It is also the source of the network’s revenue, since their profits are derived chiefly via advertising.
With the growth of mobile marketing, it wasn’t long before social networks began to break out of the box and onto our phones.  Getting back to the Wall Street Journal’s examination of the 100 most popular Facebook apps, “ The app that sought the widest array of personal information of the 100 examined, "MyPad for iPad," has a two-paragraph privacy policy that says it is "adding Privacy settings shortly." Privacy policies that describe how they collect, use and share data are required by Facebook. The app maker couldn't be reached for comment.”
The article goes on to state that, “By virtue of its size and user base of 800-million-plus people, Facebook is at the heart of the personal data economy. Popular apps can quickly go "viral" there and gain millions of users—but can also flame out just as quickly. This explains why some apps seek to cash in by gathering as much data as possible and hoping to find ways to make money from it.”
While apps are technically required to ask permission to access uses Facebook data, the way in which the permission is couched, namely in a way that would make the app virtually non-functioning if you deny access, makes it a sure bet that users will almost always grant access.  One of the items that the app makers don’t tell the public is the fact that while Facebook tries to restrict app makers from sharing the data collected with any company that hasn’t signed an agreement with Facebook, this isn’t always the case. 

Data obtained from PrivacyChoice show that several dozen widely used apps are using unapproved companies, most notably Google, the biggest online ad company. That means app users can be tracked within their apps by Google and others. Google said advertisers using its DoubleClick ad services agree to terms that prohibit the collection of any personally identifiable information.”

While the WSJ article concerned itself with Facebook apps, if the world’s largest social network and the world’s largest search engine are not above breaching each other’s privacy policies, what is the likelihood that many of their smaller and hungrier brethren in the world of online advertising are above bending the rules?

Multinational corporations for one have seen the light when it comes to the advantages of apps.  The popularity of mobile apps is now seen as a major player in driving revenues.  Given the fact that within two years more people will be surfing the web via mobile device rather than PC, is it any wonder that companies large and small see mobile marketing as their ticket to easy money, especially since most people haven’t got a clue as to how to prevent their personal data from being mined.

Hey, I’ll bet there’s an app for that!

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared MediaGroup and co-host of the weekly online radio show Working the Web to Win.  Since 1995 he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their visibility and results online.   

The Devil's in the Etails

With the price of gasoline rapidly approaching $4.00 per gallon, more and more people are electing to save gas and let their fingers do the shopping via online etailers.  With vendors such as EBay, PayPal and Amazon greasing the skids of online commerce, getting started with etailing couldn’t be easier.  The hard part is how do you promote your products in such a way that doesn’t break the bank?  While pay-per-click can be effective, organic results cost way less if you can generate them. For my money, one of the best secret weapons to producing organic results is online video.

Lights, Camera, Online Action

With the proliferation of tablets and mobile devices, video can mean the difference between browsing and buying.  When buying online, video can both show and tell a prospect about product features and benefits.  It can demonstrate, it can illuminate. The problem is that precious few etailers are using video to help them promote and sell.  What's worse is the fact that adding videos to your existing catalog couldn’t be easier.  Whether you use a video camera or a smartphone, creating a 30-second clip for every item in your catalog could be the best way to convert a browser to a buyer.

As for production value, while outrageous videos can draw a crowd on YouTube (think stupid pet tricks), this isn’t the best practice when trying to sell something to someone online.  Online customers want to be reassured that they are dealing with someone who is both reputable and knowledgeable.  Keep your videos simple and to the point and you will generate far more sales than by trying to be cute or funny.  Besides, there is a better way to generate a crowd.

Properly optimized online video can generate page 1 Google results.  In a process known as Video Optimization, a video can be optimized just as you would a website.  Since the googlebots can’t see the contents of your video, you need to describe it in both the title and body text.  Then you need to complete the remainder of the video information in its entirety.  This means designating tags (think keywords) and your location (geo-targeting). While every one of your videos won't make it to page 1, if you produce enough of them the results could be substantial.

What’s even better about utilizing online video is that while you only need to shoot it once, you will be able to employ it in a number of different ways.  Besides embedding them on your website, you can also embed them on your blog, link them to your social networks and even include them in your printed ads and literature by simply including a QR code that you can generate online for free.

The Cutting Room Floor

That doesn't mean that you should short sheet quality in any way.  Nothing is less likely to make someone want to buy something from you than a video that is shaky, poorly lit, or has terrible audio.  Conversaly, no one is expecting Steven Spielberg either. By keeping your production values simple but focused, it is a snap to create decent video in one or two takes.  If you need to invest in illumination, you can get a decent studio light with stand for around $50.  Provided that you aren't standing outside during rush hour or in a windstorm, you shouldn't need anything more than the microphone in your smartphone. 

You needn't worry about having to be picture perfect either, since editing video is now easier than ever. When it comes to amending your clips, either use the editor on YouTube, or the one built into every computer.  They are sufficient to get the job done. For a more polished look, there are a number of low cost editing solutions such as Pinnacle Studio that cost around a hundred dollars.

Any way you look at it, when it comes to expanding your existing business’ reach or starting a virtual business from scratch, when it comes to online business success,  the devil’s in the etails.

Carl Weiss is President of W Squared Media Group.  Since 1995 he has been helping businesses generate exposure and results online.  To see samples of his online videos, go to: