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Very Spammy!

A startup’s software warns of spyware and spam.

You’ve done your Internet search. Tantalizing links clamor for your attention. But it’s hard to know which might contain spyware or throw you into the clutches of a spammer (see “Malware Menace”).

A Boston-based startup, SiteAdvisor, is beta-testing a tool to sort the good from the bad. With SiteAdvisor’s software, one of three icons will appear next to many links – a red X signifying “stay away,” a yellow exclamation point suggesting reason to worry, or a green check mark for the all-clear. If you visit a site, warning balloons may pop up saying things like “After entering our e-mail address on this site, we received 197 e-mails per week. They were very spammy.”

The software was developed by two MIT-trained computer scientists, Doug Wyatt and Tom Pinckney, and consists of Web crawlers that roam the Internet, downloading proffered software and filling out sign-on forms to see what happens. The resulting knowledge is combined with information from the open-source security community and website owners and users.

“In some sense, you can think of this as a search engine – except instead of trying to find content and relevance, we are trying to find out safety information you can use,” Wyatt says. SiteAdvisor launches in March as a free download. Upgraded, fee-based versions are expected later this year.

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