WinXP Search Assistant silently downloads files

Thanks Nick_Jones for the heads up on this very interesting piece, read on!. Just over a week ago, while searching for a file on a Windows-XP machine, I was surprised to see the Search Assistant attempting to activate my Internet connection. It puzzled me because I wasn't searching the Internet, only my local drive. I was busy with other things at the time, but I made a mental note to look into it soon, which I promptly forgot to do.

This morning, Reg reader Jody Melbourne rattled my cage, fresh from having made the same discovery. He'd noticed that the Assistant was establishing a connection with a machine at Microsoft.

"I did not give Microsoft permission to know what files I am searching for on my local hard-drive," Jody wrote.

Indeed, and neither had I. So I connected an XP box to my ISP, started a packet sniffer, and launched the Search Assistant. Sure enough, it immediately connected to http://sa.windows.com/ and fetched a number of files. But it didn't attempt to send any data to the site, beyond comparing my locally-stored versions of those files to the ones on the server.

But when I performed an Internet search, the Assistant sent my search terms to the Microsoft site, and also dropped a session cookie on my machine. -cont inside

News source: The Register

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