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February 19, 2015updated 19 Aug 2016 4:01pm

Lenovo caught with eavesdrop vulnerable adware

Risk of man-in-the-middle attacks provokes backlash from cybersecurity.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Adware installed as standard on Lenovo computers has been found to have a flaw that could lead hackers to eavesdrop on customers’ machines, according to a Google security engineer.

Chris Palmer discovered that the Superfish adware was installing its own security certificates on a Yoga 2 laptop, which could lead to man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks where another person inserts themselves in a conversation between two computers.

Ken Westin, senior security analyst at cybersecurity firm Tripwire, said: "With increasingly security and privacy conscious buyers, laptop and mobile phone manufacturers may well be doing themselves a disservice by seeking outdated advertising based monetization strategies.

"If the findings are true and Lenovo is installing their own self-signed certificates, they have not only betrayed their customers’ trust, but also put them at increased risk."

Lenovo’s social media programme manager Mark Hopkins had previously defended Superfish on the firm’s official forums as "a technology that helps users find and discover products visually".

He added that the software did not monitor what the user was doing, and that customers could disable Superfish by not accepting the terms and conditions that appear on its first launch.

Despite this many observers commented that the program was a classic example of the dangers of preinstalled software, which many users find a nuisance that is in some cases impossible to remove.

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"Preinstalled software is always a concern because there’s often no easy way for a buyer to know what that software is doing – or if removing it will cause system problems further down the line," said Chris Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at security vendor Malwarebytes.

"While a clean operating system install is preferable, it isn’t always practical – hitting the rollback / factory setting button on a new machine will give you back programs you’ve just tried to remove, and not everybody has a stack of operating system discs to hand."

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