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Australian Police Given Power To Use Spyware 450

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the big-brother-actually-is-watching-now dept.
reek writes "An Australian newspaper has reported> that the contentious Surveillance Devices Act has been passed. The act will (according to the article) allow Federal Police to obtain warrants to secretly install spyware onto users computers enabling them to "monitor email, online chats, word processor and spreadsheets entries and even bank personal identification numbers and passwords.""
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Australian Police Given Power To Use Spyware

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  • A Good Thing? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fembots (753724) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:45PM (#11074854) Homepage
    Now that this Surveillance Devices Act allows police to obtain a warrant, does that mean that information obtained unlawfully won't stand in the court?

    I vaguely remember there's a country where it is illegal to obstruct surveillance by way of encryption. And you may be required to hand over all your passwords (if some are protecting legal documents like a Will) if the police decided to take a good look at you.

    I can imagine a police listening to a phone conversation interrupts the suspects and requests them to speak in plain English.
    • Re:A Good Thing? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tackhead (54550) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:52PM (#11074944)
      > Now that this Surveillance Devices Act allows police to obtain a warrant, does that mean that information obtained unlawfully won't stand in the court?

      Information obtained unlawfully never stands in court. Because the Constitution is a living document that must be updated to take into account changing technologies, however, the definition of "unlawful" must change.

      In brief, "Anything not nailed down is ours. Anything we can pry loose is not nailed down!"

      Meantime, the US has had this since 2001 [wired.com], so it's not like Australia's move towards normalizing law enforcement techniques to modern standards is anything new.

      • Modern??? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nebbian (564148)
        ...so it's not like Australia's move towards normalizing law enforcement techniques to modern standards is anything new.

        That's right, down there in little Australia they still use stone tools and hunt kangaroos with spears.
        How is a shortsighted unworkable piece of legislation modern?

    • I use really long passphrases when I encrypt my data.

      I also use 448bit Blowfish encryption.

      If I forget my passphrase, no matter how pissed the cops ge, it doesn't really make a difference.

      Now, if their spyware had keylogged the phrase the last time I decrypted....

      • by Le Marteau (206396) * on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:46PM (#11075549) Journal
        If I forget my passphrase, no matter how pissed the cops ge, it doesn't really make a difference.

        I hope you can still say that when your cellmate starts referring to you as 'Shirley'.

      • Re:A Good Thing? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ColaMan (37550) on Monday December 13, 2004 @08:52PM (#11077670) Homepage Journal
        If I forget my passphrase, no matter how pissed the cops ge, it doesn't really make a difference.

        There's this thing called 'contempt of court'.

        Prosecutor : "Well, would you please tell us the passphrase to your files."
        You: "I forgot it (grin)."
        Prosecutor : "But our surveillance shows you opened that file yesterday, and 5 times last week. And yet, you forget?"
        Magistrate : "Defendant, it is obvious that you know your passphrase. Please reveal your passphrase to the court."
        You : "I forget (grin)."
        Magistrate : "Very well. Three months in jail for contempt of court. This session will resume at a later date."
    • Re:A Good Thing? (Score:5, Informative)

      by myowntrueself (607117) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:08PM (#11075134)
      "I vaguely remember there's a country where it is illegal to obstruct surveillance by way of encryption."

      The UK, I believe?

      Where its illegal to 'possess any information which might be useful to a terrorist'
    • Re:A Good Thing? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by zfusion (835968) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:16PM (#11075220)
      I personally don't like the idea of the government using spyware but it is similar to wiretapping. My concerns are the following:

      a. Would a corporation (MS) work with the feds to allow this software a backdoor to bypass security and be easily automatically installed on the system?

      b. What precautions would be made to make sure this software didn't end up in the hands of others and spyware companies?

      c. How are they going to get around more savvy users if firewalls are installed on the systems being monitored?

      Not that I am looking to commit any crimes, but from things I've seen in the news lately, I worry about the future US government or any government abusing it's powers. On another note .. from what I hear about China, I could imagine hearing about the government there trying to implement this on all systems to try to make sure the average citizen isn't exposed to anti-communistic web material.
      • Re:A Good Thing? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MasterOfMagic (151058)
        a. Would a corporation (MS) work with the feds to allow this software a backdoor to bypass security and be easily automatically installed on the system?

        If the Feds came to them and said, "You know, if you want to keep doing buisness, we need this from you," you can bet that they would do it. Microsoft is a corporation, and corporations exist to make money, so it's safe to assume that they would cooperate. (One side note: It's not like these sort of hooks need to be added. Internet Explorer seems to pi
  • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:46PM (#11074863) Journal
    ...that having software that (knowingly or unknowingly) blocks or removes this spyware isn't a crime...
    • I think simply having Linux would make yourself (at least for now) immune.
      • I think simply having Linux would make yourself (at least for now) immune.

        Please keep in mind that these are the police. They are not some random script kiddy, and would focus much more strongly on your computer. It also means that they probably already got a warrent to search your house and will have physical access to your computer. And my guess is that they will be able to take control of your computer in as much time as it takes to boot (not saying how to not encourage moron kiddies). And since y
        • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:16PM (#11075229) Homepage Journal
          If they have a warrant, and access to your computer, what the fuck are they messing around keeping it running for anyway, why haven't they just arrested you?

          There is no secret piece of cross platform software available that can give 100% systeminfo without detection and be transparent to a clued up user.
          There are however 100s of Windows only programs that can get so far inside the backdoor that even goatse is jealous, and STILL not be detected by a user ("Oh it was running a bit slow" they say as you nod slowly and sip your coffee whilst waiting for Adaware to finish its scan.)

          btw, im a Windows user, not Linux - I merely pointed out the usual flaw in the plan.
          • by Frymaster (171343) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:31PM (#11075407) Homepage Journal
            If they have a warrant, and access to your computer, what the fuck are they messing around keeping it running for anyway, why haven't they just arrested you?

            because they're looking to get enough evidence to arrest you. all that is needed to get a warrant in most oecd countries is "probable cause". basically, the cops go to a judge and say "we have a guy who says a guy told him that person a might be a drug dealer. can we get a warrant?" and more often than not, the warrant is issued.

            depending on the type of warrant, they can get a one time search and seizure, a wiretap on your phone or a passive listening device in your room. all this law in australia does is just add computer traffic to that list.

            if you are concerned about your privacy and protecting it from the warrant system, you're about two hundred years late in complaining.

        • This is why it makes a LOT of sense to install strong encryption software that's loaded BEFORE the OS, making the computer totally inaccessible if you don't know the password.

          They can have all of the spyware they want, but if they can't even get the system to boot, they'll never manage to install it, and if the software also logs/displays failed or incomplete access attempts, it'll be tipping the owner off that someone was trying to tinker.

          For "secure" computing, I'd be picking a laptop with a bootable en
      • " I think simply having Linux would make yourself (at least for now) immune."

        And given that in circumstances like this, the powers-that-be like to ban things that might make it difficult for them... like, oh I don't know, Linux for example?

    • by pla (258480) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:10PM (#11075150) Journal
      Someone please tell me ... that having software that (knowingly or unknowingly) blocks or removes this spyware isn't a crime...

      Well, of course it would count as a crime! Probably as simple as "tampering with evidence", but it wouldn't surprise me if they invented a special category of crime, over which we have no control, to deal with (for example) AdAware detecting and removing such software.

      But... Why on Earth would you want to remove it?

      Just fake it out, and you have carte blanche to commit whatever crimes you want, with the state's own "evidence" of your whereabouts to clear you at any given time...

      "And how do you suppose my client committed this crime, when your own activity logs show him viewing... Um... homoerotic goat porn??? at the time of the crime?"


      As an aside relating back to my first paragraph, I personally run AntiVir for precisely that reason... As a German company, they treat a US government sponsored virus (such as the FBI's Magic Lantern) the same as any other virus - Namely, they detect it, quarrantine it, and kill it. Unlike both Norton and Mcafee, which have publically stated that they will not detect any virii such as ML.
      • Nah, simply using your own bloody spreadsheet would be "tampering with evidence."

        Removing the spyware would be "obstruction of justice.

        KFG
      • So why not just create a virus like Magic lantern and use it to steal US secrets? It defies logic.
      • I also use antivir. I update it every day (every day). it finds updates almost every time I run it.

        on a friend's pc, it found about 400 baddies. yes, that pc was full of popups/etc.

        its free, they have extremely regular updates and it works. /one user's opinion

    • Ok I am telling you... It's not a crime.
  • by SoupGuru (723634) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:46PM (#11074864)
    The Surveillance Devices Act allows police to obtain a warrant to use software surveillance technologies

    As long as they need to obtain a warrant first, I don't see the big deal.

    • I think that a wiretap, outside surveilance, someone following you around in an unmarked van is one thing. The unreasonableness is when you have law enforcement actually in your home via cameras, spyware, etc. The home should be off limits for this kind of thing.
      • but aren't law enforcement agencies already allowed to go into your home and install surveillance devices (e.g., microphones) if a warrant has been granted? this just extends that power to your computer.
      • Okay, just to play the devil's advocate, you do anything you want to in your home, that becomes off limits to surveilance? I don't really see that working out. Especially when you are talking about RICO and conspiracy stuff. Just hold all meetings in your home, and you are good to go.

        Nah, I don't see that being all that good an idea, if you posit that there is a purpose to having surveilance under warrant in the first place, then saying that you have known sanctuary from it in your home doesn't seem very l
    • Mod parent up up up. The government has the 'power' to do the surveillance. However, the key is obtaining the warrant which is one of the big outcry against Patriot Act.
    • Exactly. As long as due process is followed it is in the same realm as a wire tap or bug. It is when the due process bit is removed that we need to start worrying.
      • I like how you said when rather than if. I wish that there were something that would stop the government from increasing its power over us, other than the fact that it might piss people off. Its a rather scary trend and I don't see it stopping any time soon, while people keep getting more comfortable with it.
        • I wish that there were something that would stop the government from increasing its power over us, other than the fact that it might piss people off. Its a rather scary trend and I don't see it stopping any time soon, while people keep getting more comfortable with it.

          In the U.S. that's supposed to be We the People, all our votes and all our guns. Most people, however, have been snowed by U.S. government propaganda aimed at its own citizens. "This will protect you from terrorists." Bullshit. But most pe

    • by Telastyn (206146) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:58PM (#11075028)
      I was going to post the same thing, until I realised that there's a subtle distinction. Phone tap warrants [to my knowledge] don't actually do anything to the alledged criminal's property. They place the tap at the CO, and listen in. Once the info leaves the ownership of the alledged criminal it's fair game [like their trash].

      Actual property search warrants [to my knowledge] require the alledged criminal to be issued the warrant, and present for the search. The info in the computer though [assuming no internet connection] stays in the computer. Placing a keylogger on the machine without informing the owner seems to be a special circumstance to get around age old search warrant law.

      It'd be much better if it limited the spying to internet connections.

      [disclaimer: I am not austrailian, and I am not a lawyer, some assumptions might be wrong, and render the arguement moot.]
      • Wiretaps used to be installed in or close to the actual home being tapped. It is only because the phone companies (were required to) make it easy to tap at the CO that they don't need to do this anymore.

        They can still get warrants to tap homes for actual sound within the home. And they don't need to tell the person being tapped - they just need the appropriate warrant.
        • They can still get warrants to tap homes for actual sound within the home. And they don't need to tell the person being tapped - they just need the appropriate warrant

          True. Didn't you see that episode of The Sopranos where they bugged the lamp in the basement? TV never lies. Then again, "It's not TV, it's HBO."
    • by adjwilli (530933) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:18PM (#11075252) Homepage
      Over 30,000 federal warrants were request last year. Only 32 were denied.
      • by dorsey (119963)
        The only thing you can reasonably conclude from that is that cops aren't in the habit of asking for warrants they know they won't get.

        Come back when you have info about how many were later found to have been issued improperly.
    • by Kanasta (70274)
      1 How hard is it to get a warrant?
      2 How often will they FIRST tap you, THEN if they find anything they'll get a warrant so they can use the evidence?
  • by beavis88 (25983)
    Let's hope AdAware picks up those signatures real quick! :)
  • Great... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cdrudge (68377) *
    I'm sure this power won't ever get abused. <rolls eyes>
  • We caught the defendant logging into marsupialsgonewild.com.....
  • ...this means we'll have to install spyware on the cop's computers to make sure they're properly complying with the law.
  • by PincheGab (640283) * on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:48PM (#11074894)
    Now this more that anything else will persuade many "normal" (ie, non-tech nerds)) people to switch to Linux...

    One cannot trust a closed-source anti-government_spyware program working an a closed-source O/S, but the same perogram implemented as open source running on an open-source O/S? Yeah, much better.

    • Scenario 1:
      Your honor... we obtained the warrant to install it. But we don't freaking know how to do it!
      (His honor: ) Argh! Damn Linux!

      Scenario 2:
      OPEN THE DOOR! POLICE!
      (hacker deletes everything from his computer using a three-finger hotkey)
      Yes, officer? How can I help you?
      We're here to install some spyware on your machine. We have a warrant.
      Oh sure, come in.
      (half an hour later...)
      (hacker unplugs his PC. Runs anti-spyware, and reboots)
      *whistles*

        • Scenario 2:
          OPEN THE DOOR! POLICE!
          ...
          We're here to install some spyware on your machine. We have a warrant.
          Oh sure, come in.
          (half an hour later...)

        A half hour? I would think it takes a couple days to get all the dependencies right. Some will be an easy rpm install, but two or three will have to be compiled using an outdated set of dependencies that're impossible to find anywhere and which recursively rely on other impossible to find dependencies. Eventually, the cops give up in frustration and d

    • It doesn't take a switch to Linux to get Linux-like protection.

      Get Win2K or XP and do your daily work as a limited user. Stick with apps that work as a limited user (Yes, this means dumping Quickbooks for Simply Accounting). Ditch or fix the games that need Admin to run and tell your vendors to clean up their act. Take charge of your PC already and stop blaming Microsoft.
  • Of course the next question is (besides the privacy concerns) is using programs such as AdAware and Spybot S&D to remove said Federal Spyware illegal. My guess would be yes but I also suppose that the people who would be getting these "taps" on their computers won't care much about the legal reprocussions of removing them.

    I also, wonder what kind of stance the Australian Law Enforcement will take towards these companies. Will they provide them with information to avoid their spyware (I doubt it)?

    I'm a
    • Of course the next question is (besides the privacy concerns) is using programs such as AdAware and Spybot S&D to remove said Federal Spyware illegal. My guess would be yes but I also suppose that the people who would be getting these "taps" on their computers won't care much about the legal reprocussions of removing them.

      The real target of making it illegal to remove federal spyware would be the makers of spyware removal programs, who have a lot more to lose than someone already under heavy surveil

  • Say someone who wrote a virus or trojan to capture keystrokes.
    Or even spyware for that matter.

    Like wiretapping without a court order?
  • Whatever (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the_mad_poster (640772) <shattoc@adelphia.com> on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:50PM (#11074917) Homepage Journal

    Yea, OK. Because as the software companies have learned from their massively successful bout with game pirates (assuming you use "successful" to mean "it wasn't warezed before it even hit the bloody store shelf") you can effectively use a person's PC against them.

    Whatever. Looks to me like the computer geek is just going to become a staple of the successful organized crime family in Kangaroo-land, that's all. You cannot put a skilled person in front of a computer and not have them figure out how to break your stupid protections and spyware and whatever else you want to try and pull over on them. If it's on my computer, and I have a reason to go looking for it, I'll find it, and I'll break it. Guaranteed. You cannot hide things from someone on their own computer.

    Yet another technology that will have absolutely no effect on the big time criminals and will waste money catching the little guys that weren't really capable of getting away in the first place. In fact, I'm now taking bets on how long until someone figures out how to sniff out the signature and disable it.

    • Looks to me like the computer geek is just going to become a staple of the successful organized crime family in Kangaroo-land

      On the plus side there are now a lot of extra interesting and challenging jobs available for any unemployed slashdotters and organised crime is one thing that's totally safe from outsourcing!
    • Re:Whatever (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ajs (35943) <ajs&ajs,com> on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:13PM (#11075193) Homepage Journal
      "If it's on my computer, and I have a reason to go looking for it, I'll find it, and I'll break it. Guaranteed. You cannot hide things from someone on their own computer."

      I disagree. Bad intrusion software is easy to detect. Good intrusion software is difficult to detect. Top notch intrusion software can exist for years under the nose of skilled people who are looking for it.

      Also, what makes you think that the good stuff will be software? Ever wonder what all of that firmware on your video card does? If it just detected certain kinds trigger conditions (perhaps on the bus from certain kinds of ethernet packets being latched off of the network card) and responded by taking a screenshot and saving it into some unused header space in outgoing HTTP requests (hard to grab and re-write from the bus, but I'll bet you could do it)... how would you know? No disk activity. No increase in network usage. No software running on the main CPU...

      Better yet, just put it in the network card... that market is totally cut-throat, so I'll bet that anyone who offered a network card manufacturer a large sale or two in exchange for some extra firmware... well...

      "Yet another technology that will have absolutely no effect on the big time criminals and will waste money catching the little guys that weren't really capable of getting away in the first place."

      Well, it will enforce a kind of evolution, right? The guys who manage (however they do it) to survive this kind of attack will win. That might not be the biggest fish.
    • Not all people are computer geeks, and high up criminals I am damn sure are NOT letting their computer geek friends look at thier computers. And if they *are* they are the ones that have been most likely turned by the authorites and installed the monitoring software on the computer.

      I would fully disagree with the phrase *ABSOLUTELY* because that phrase is almost *ALWAYS* wrong.

      Fact is big time criminals use either off the shelf or easily obtained software for ill-will. That software is easier to be moni
  • by Dan667 (564390)
    In the US we have had Carnivore for years ... meh
    http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-524798.html?leg acy=zdnn/ [zdnet.com]
    • Carnivore was around long before it was called Carnivore. Its just a gussied up (or dumbed down) Ethernet sniffer

      for that reason though Carnivore is more effective. It hard to detech a sniffer if placed on a point in the network your don't control. Spyware being directly on the client side machine is relatively easy to find.

  • by installing Google Desktop http://desktop.google.com/ [google.com]?
  • first they will have to break into my box. as I don't leave my computer with root logged in, in a terminal.
  • What is the best way to record what these sites are doing? I mostly use Firefox and Konquerer. In both of them there are ways to fake your browser and make it look like you have IE installed when you really don't.

    What's the best way to sandbox these programs to study them later?

    Anyone have any links to these sites?

  • I get the feeling that Reynolds Wrap sales are going to skyrocket in Australia.

    I wonder how those "Crocodile Dundee"-style hats would look when covered with tinfoil....
  • How much you want to bet that there's about to be a stampede to Linux down under??

    • Re:Well now, (Score:4, Insightful)

      by barfy (256323) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:11PM (#11075155)
      Sure, I will take that bet....

      I am willing to bet that less than 1% of those that are surveyed will even be aware of it.

      I am willing to bet, that less that .1% of those that make a decision about what OS they use will make that decision based on whether the government will spy on them.
  • There are a couple of legal questions I would like to pose to /. about this.

    1. Normally, when your government takes or uses your property in a way that prevents you from enjoying it, you get paid. If my government is installing software on my machine, that effectively occupies a portion of my hard drive and prevents me from storing data there. Thus, property is taken, should I get paid? If so when?

    2. If I remove the software, am I destroying government property?

    3. If the United States were to try t
    • 1. No
      2. No
      3. Under the Authority of the provision. As had been exercised in previous wiretap/patriot act/rico/conspiracy laws/
      4. If they still have jurisdiction, probably yes. Undoubtably they will still use itl.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:03PM (#11075071)

    If you're an alert user, and you find this task running on your machine, and you remove it...

    Are you guilty of the Australian version of Obstruction of Justice?

    If so, you could commit a serious crime by simply running a spyware scanner.

  • ...what will those australians think of next?
  • Easy fix, sort of. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gerdia (700650)
    Use a laptop... use OpenBSD... encrypt your entire drive... carry it with you everywhere, sleep with it under your pillow.
  • I guess the easiest way to make sure you aren't being tapped is to 1) put all your data on a removable disk, 2) use IMAP for mail, 3) Fresh install your OS with all the programs you want 4) Ghost (or some other backup tool) your install 5) reinstall the backup as often as possible. (optional: 6) PROFIT.)

    It might not keep the spyware out, but it will at least make it a pain in the ass for them to keep it on.
  • crashes the crap out of Konqueror 3.3.2

    Maybe that's the Kangaroo Kops trying to install an M$ bug in everyone's browser...
  • ... Australia didn't already have this as part of their legal system?!
  • I guess that they'd freak out if you ran everything from an OpenBSD box with everything encrypted, good PHRASE passwords, not single words, phrases, and used an encrypted connection as soon as you connected to the internet, and regularly inspected your hardware for indications that it'd been tampered with (or just carry your system with you at all times). And had your system check for rootkits and run something like tripwire against a nonvolatile piece of memory (like a SD card) every time you booted up.

    Of
  • Maybe I'm missing something. Let's say that criminal #1 is keeping records of ill deeds on his pc. Then this announcement goes out that the govt. now has the power to install copware on your computer. Wouldn't all but the dumbest criminals (who would've been caught anyway) simply disconnect their box, and use a non-incriminating computer for internet? Or a firewall?
  • by feloneous cat (564318) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:27PM (#11075362)
    "Yer honor he was using Windows and..."

    "That's enough for me! I sentence you to life!"
  • by LittleLebowskiUrbanA (619114) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:27PM (#11075367) Homepage Journal
    Now this spyware issue, the banning ceremonial swords and toy guns [tripod.com], crime rates rising [geoffmetcalf.com], and the security camera epidemic [csmonitor.com]. How much freedom are the citizens of these countries willing to give up?
    • the banning ceremonial swords and toy guns

      Ceremonial swords I don't understand, but toy guns I agree with completly. They are horrible things and I for one would be glad to see a lot less of them.
    • Violent crime in the US has been declining for more than a decade. It took a mighty downward trend during the administration of that oh-so-reviled Mr. Clinton.

      Gee, do you think that could have anything to do with the assload of money that administration directed toward hiring new police officers? The timing cannot be mre coincidence: at the very time the Clinton administration's new measures were going into effect in 94/95 (Billions directed toward hiring thousands more police officers, a castrated assault
  • cat and mouse (Score:3, Insightful)

    by trb (8509) on Monday December 13, 2004 @04:28PM (#11075383)
    Like any other bug (transmitter, not software error), this would seem to rely on security through obscurity. If the person under surveillance (snoopee?) knew he was being bugged, it would be easy enough to foil.

    Crooks use things like radio scanners to look for wireless bugs. They can use tools to search for such spyware, essentially tools like Adaware or virus scanners or sum | diff.

    Once crooks find out how their systems are compromised, spyware removal tools can do their work, and crooks can take evasive measures. For example, installing many sets of OS binaries, DLL directories, registries, etc, on each machine. In different directories, different file systems, different disks, whatever.

    You could play all sorts of cat and mouse games. Sounds sorta like fun, except, guilty or not, it's probably not fun having the heat on your tail.

  • by advocate_one (662832) on Monday December 13, 2004 @05:22PM (#11075880)
    and a usb keydrive with you to access your email with... gets round any spyware on the machines... unfortunately it can't cope with hardware based keyboard loggers or someone else in the circuit sniffing all your packages...
  • by sPaKr (116314) on Monday December 13, 2004 @07:22PM (#11076980)
    How is this going to work when I have antivirus software on my computer which is supposed to detect and stop exactly this stuff. Companies like symantec and mcaffe will have to buy in, and then Ill stop buying them. Spyware is spyware and a virus is a virus, even if the cops use it whats stops the bad guys from getting a copy and using it themselfs?

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