We have just received a disturbing report from Vanja Svajcer on the SophosLabs security blog indicating that a recently distributed “unofficial” build of Freedom Scientific’s JAWS 9.0 screen reader making the rounds on various blindness related mailing lists contains dangerous code that disables the use of JAWS and most other screen readers. In his article, Blind computer users struck by a very unusual Trojan attack, Vanja describes a scenario in which a blind user’s computer may essentially be reduced to something about as useful as a very large paperweight, at least until a sighted person can come along to help clean up the mess with appropriate anti-virus software. We should all keep two critical lessons in mind when considering whether or not to download and install software onto our computers:

  • Is the software being offered legal? “Cracked” or otherwise illegal copies of software may contain Trojan Horse code or other malware that may cause damage to your computer’s operating system, applications or data. Not only is the download and use of illegal software unethical, it may actually be detrimental to your digital life.
  • Is the software being delivered by a credible source? In addition to the advertising of a “cracked” copy of JAWS 9.0, it is also believed that the malware mentioned in Vanja’s article may have been distributed under the guys of an “unofficial” JAWS build provided to a customer by Freedom Scientific’s technical support team in order to solve specific issues. Those issues were never clearly specified. The software was being provided by a third party, not directly by Freedom Scientific. The lesson here is that we should check with the company developing the software before downloading and installing any updates. In the case of shareware, free software or open source software, we should take care to download from a reputable source, such as Download.com, FileForum or SourceForge.

Our computers and, even more so our data, are too important to place at unnecessary risk. Let us all take care to protect our valuable digital resources.