Last week while I was playing a baseball game on my computer, the screen suddenly minimized and I was staring at my desktop. I was mildly annoyed and wondered what had just happened but didn’t dwell on it too much and resumed playing my game. After a few pitches, the same thing happened. This was not chance; something was messing with my computer and I didn’t like it. I put my game on hold and started researching the issue.
Obviously something was stealing the focus of the window that my game was in. This is why it kept minimizing to the desktop. I opened up Tweak UI to verify that I had enabled the option to prevent one window from stealing focus from another and saw that I had. This was getting more and more interesting.
Another few minutes of research revealed that something was changing the registry entry that prevents window focus stealing. After another couple of minutes, I had found the culprit: Logitech SetPoint. I’m not sure why SetPoint was repeatedly messing with this particular feature in the registry but it was and it was causing me a lot of issues. I decided to try to reboot the system to see if I could get things stabilized.
After the reboot, things seemed to be working well so I started playing my game again. Five minutes hadn’t passed before I had a new problem, NetNanny, our content filter, kept popping up a window telling me that a site was being blocked because of pornographic content. The odd thing is that I wasn’t surfing the web. I didn’t even have a browser open. At this point, I was pretty convinced that I had some sort of malware on my computer, probably a rogue dialer, so I started the process of cleaning things up.
After half a dozen virus and spyware scans, including HijackThis, what few cookies that were on my system were gone and there was no indication of anything bad on the computer. This would be good news except for the fact that my computer was still acting like it was infected. To make a long story short (too late), after almost a week of trying to find out what the problem was, I decided to wipe the system clean and start fresh.
I spent all weekend backing up my data and reinstalling Windows. Everything was going smoothly until last night. I had managed to restore everything from the external hard drive it was backed up to. I had also reinstalled almost all of my programs. Still, no problems. Then I installed Windows Live Messenger and the problems started happening again. Apparently, Windows Live Messenger likes to send information over the internet without the user’s consent. That sounds like spyware to me so I immediately uninstalled it and everything started working as it should.
Given the fact that Messenger is a Microsoft product, most people wouldn’t think twice about having it on their Windows machine. Nor would they think twice about what the software for their mouse and keyboard is doing when they’re not looking. It could be that Messenger was doing nothing more than “phoning home” but I don’t want stuff on my computer to send data, insignificant as it may be, to anybody without my knowledge.
This leads me to the question, how much of the “legit” software on our computers is doing stuff like this? I wouldn’t have even noticed what was going on with Messenger if my porn filter didn’t catch it. I got lucky. My paranoia levels have just shot way up and I’m already paranoid enough. I really don’t want to have to worry about good software gone bad.
P.S. I told my wife that she has to start using Pidgin from here on out. No more Messenger for her.