- The Twisting Tale of Messenger Skinner
Upon hearing bad reports about a product called "Messenger Skinner", we decided to investigate. The program (whose target audience must strongly favour kids by virtue of the fact that the most entertaining thing it gives you is dancing bananas) has a number of issues that make it something I'd rather not recommend. Note:
"Messenger Skinner is free of any kind of spyware or trojan".
Interesting statement. Let's continue.
...looks innocent enough so far, but things are about to get messy.
Presented with a "real" installer. That's good.
The text box is stupidly small. That's bad.
The "no" button is pre-checked and you have to physically select yes. That's good.
I don't like the colour scheme. That's bad.
The EULA is certainly comprehensive. That's good.
But that's only because there's apparently two of them.
See, during install, the EULA you see is NOT the EULA you see by clicking "Terms and Conditions" from the program entry on your Start list. Indeed, once installed, all you really get is a very general ramble about liability, licensing and intellectual property. Right at the end, under "Uninstall", you get the briefest of mentions for this:
This software is completely free as it is subsidized by the Favorit contextual advertising component."
....ooh. In fact, we need to hope that anyone installing the program not only took great note of the EULA during install, but copied and pasted it onto their system to get a better idea of what's likely to be going on in their system.
1. USE OF THE SOFTWARE
1.1.MessengerSkinner, a Freeware application, offers a button which allow you to add funny emoticons and other things to MSN Messenger (R) 7.0, 7.5 and Windows Live Messenger (R).
1.2. The Software includes a component which will remain active at all times with the objective of verifying and ensuring the correct functioning of the Software, and offering other advantages (“Component”). When the User is connected to the Internet the Component will make periodic connections to the Provider’s servers in order to check that there are no problems in the access network or the User’s Computer. If any error which prevents the normal use of the Software is detected in the User’s Computer, the Component will seek to identify and solve it. Any changes that the Component makes to the User’s Computer will be to clearly non-essential parts thereof and for the purposes referred to in these Conditions. THE USER REQUESTS AND AUTHORIZES THE INSTALLATION AND UPDATING OF THIS COMPONENT TOGETHER WITH THE SOFTWARE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE TERMS SET OUT IN THESE CONDITIONS. The Component will carry out the tasks described in these Conditions only when the User is connected to the Internet, whether using the Software or the User’s regular Internet connection. In any case, the User can easily uninstall the Software or the Component by selecting “Access Connection” and “Component Add-On” respectively in the appropriate section of the operating system control panel. Users should be aware that upon such uninstallation, the advertising messages might be sent during a period of three months after said uninstallation, the benefits provided by the Component will not be available and in certain cases the Software (if retained) or the Provider’s services may not function correctly.
Adverts for three months after uninstalling? Nice! As you'll see later, the hoops you need to jump through to uninstall hark back to the "good old days" of Direct Revenue making you download additional software to uninstall the first unwanted program. Tonight we're gonna' party like it's 2004! Yay!
1.4. In order to carry out the operations referred to in the paragraphs above, the Component will send certain data from the User’s Computer to, and will receive information and requests for these purposes from, the Provider’s servers. The data sent to the Provider’s servers by the Component will be limited to technical and connection information such as: operating system user name, name of the computer in the operating system, IP address of the LAN of the computer, country of connection, browser default country, operating system version, operating system or browser service packs installed, ID of the most recent browser update, vertical and horizontal resolution of the monitor screen, IP address of the most recent internet connection, maximum and average response times, percentage losses, name of the last RAS connection and others relevant for the purposes indicated. The User authorizes such exchanges of information with the Provider’s servers in accordance with these Conditions. At no time will any information regarding Internet sites visited or other activities of the User be sent to the Provider’s servers; this information will be processed within the User’s Computer in order to anonymously select advertising or other messages to be shown to the User. In no case will the Provider be able to identify the User nor will any profile of the User be created.
...."limited to"? What else is there left to grab, shoe size?
For the sake of this:
....I'm starting to feel pretty uncomfortable about installing this program. Oh, note that I had to blank a few smileys out because they were, er, sort of rude. Enjoy, kids!
Anyway, now we come to the meaty part. If you installed this program and happened to run, oh, I don't know....a bunch of Rootkit Scanners...you'd probably see something a little like this:
.....and, from another testbox, something like this:
....hidden, randomly named executables? Oh, awesome. That's just what the world needs more of. I guess that's why Symantec say the following on this writeup, then:
"# Hides the following files by using rootkit technology:
......to coin a phrase, whoops.
At this point, I bet you're dying to see the program in action, right? Exactly how does Messenger Skinner operate in the context of the MSN Chat system? Well, the answer is faintly interesting:
.....check it out, it almost totally hides the adverts served up by MSN! I wonder if they'd be happy knowing this product did that? I guess we'd better move onto the uninstaller that time forgot. In the rather general "terms and conditions" available from accessing the program via the Start menu, right at the bottom, is this:
This software is completely free as it is subsidized by the Favorit contextual advertising component.
The end user can uninstall our component by filling the following form:
.....oh dear. I'm sort of surprised anyone still releases applications like this - especially as it all smacks of hoop jumping and a faint impression that they don't actually want you to uninstall any of these things. For a perfect example of what I mean, check out this writeup from 2005 where I battled with the Uninstaller for Direct Revenues Aurora.
Let's all pause while you read that and say a few brief words for Aurora.
What's that? Nobody got anything good to say about it? Nah, didn't think so. Anyway....let's go over how I think uninstalling a program should go.
1) Decide to uninstall.
2) Run uninstaller.
3) The end.
Now let's see how it goes down in Messenger Skinner Land, or as I like to call it, "Hoop Jump City Central" (like Nutbush City Limits, but with a better beat).
The Main Uninstall Page:
The Terms and Conditions Page:
That's right, to uninstall the program, they insist that you open up THREE DIFFERENT PAGES and read through endless reams of text - just to uninstall something!
Not only that, but then you have to hand over your Email address to contact them, tell them why you don't want it on your system anymore and (finally) "wait for someone to look into it" and then, finally, presumably, hopefully, send you the link to the uninstaller.
But wait, it gets BETTER. Can you believe it? Look what awaits you in the mailbox:
Absolutely incredible. You're stuck with a 24 hour limit to obtain the uninstall program. If your Internet connection breaks, or you weren't planning on sitting on front of your PC all day waiting for their all important Email - too bad! Furthermore, they have such iron clad faith in their uninstaller program that if you run it more than three times, you see this:
Even better, both Panda and Prevx flag the uninstaller as suspicious:
And even better than that, there are some people out there complaining that the uninstaller doesn't actually seem to be very good at, er, uninstalling things.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the epitome of "complete disaster". Without a doubt, this is one of the worst uninstall routines I've seen in years, and you can put that on a wall and frame it.
Finally, there are a bunch of domains on the server hosting Messenger Skinner that are related to the parent company. Of particular interest is one called crazygirls-world.com (registered to the same guy as Messenger Skinner), which leads you to....
.....Dialer related porn on a site called "gad-network.com". Of course, it's no surprise that we see Gad-Network leads us back to the Favorit Network site.
.....wait, didn't I get a really amazing uninstaller from there once?
Research Summary Write-Up: Chris Boyd, Director of Malware Research
Technical Research: Chris Mannon, FSL Senior Threat Researcher
Additional Research: Peter Jayaraj, FSL Senior Threat Researcher