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Feature article from the August, 2001 Cyberspace News

This Is An Outrage

The most fundamental program in a PC is the “BIOS”, which is the first thing that runs when the machine is started. It controls all communication to, from, and within the PC.  One of the major vendors of BIOS’S is Phoenix. The latest Phoenix BIOS has a little extra feature: Without your knowledge or consent, the BIOS periodically contacts Phoenix via the Internet, and does one or more of the following things: (1) It transmits information about your computer, (2) It downloads advertising to your screen, and (3) It changes parameter settings in your computer.

All of these things are, of course, for the benefit of Phoenix and Its business partners.  The above are the things that Phoenix admits to doing at present.  However, it is possible for them to do other things as well, through this BIOS. For instance, it could read your personal files.

There are several ways to avoid Phoenix’s stealthy behavior: A sufficiently knowledgeable user can disable the feature or replace the new BIOS with an earlier version that does not include it. Of course, the best thing would be to refuse any Phoenix BIOS when buying a new machine, if for no other reason than to send a financial message to Phoenix, discouraging such insidious behavior.

At a minimum, when buying a new PC you should ask the seller “Is the motherboard PhoenixNet enabled?”.  (Unfortunately, if you’re buying from a chain, the salespeople are likely not to know, or might just give whatever answer they think you want to hear.) If the answer is “yes”, then tell them to disable it and to give you a written description of how they did it.
Technically expert readers can obtain detailed information at: www.cexx.org/phoenix.htm

Thanks to Bill Shapiro for this timely and disturbing article.


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