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Beware of Five-Star Vaporware

U.K. computer programmer Andy Brice was proud of the awards and accolades his software had won from his peers online. That is, until he noticed that pretty much everyone else's software received the same "5-star" rating and high praise from various software directories and download sites.

Curious about just how thorough the sites are at reviewing software, Brice submitted a fake program that did absolutely nothing. The place he sent the program to was a clearinghouse that distributes shareware and trialware to hundreds of other sites.

Brice even included a descriptor file stating that he was submitting a useless program, which he tauntingly named "awardmestars." To his amazement, the do-nothing program came away with top honors -- complete with official-looking seals of approval -- from at least 16 download sites.

"I should be delighted at this recognition of the quality of my software, except that the 'software' doesn't even run," Brice wrote of the experiment on his blog. "This is hardly surprising when you consider that it is just a text file with the words 'this program does nothing at all" repeated a few times and then renamed as an .exe."

Of the nearly 1,000 download sites that received a copy of "awardmestars," 218 now offer the file for download. Brice said the junk file is awaiting review at nearly 400 other sites. The good news is that some 421 download sites did see the program for what it was worth and rejected it outright.

"The truth is that many download sites are just electronic dung heaps, using fake awards, dubious [search engine optimization] and content misappropriated ... in a pathetic attempt to make a few dollars from Google Adwords," Brice said. "Hopefully these bottom-feeders will be put out of business by the continually improving search engines, leaving only the better sites."

This story got picked up late last week by news-for-nerds megasite, and the discussion has some interesting perspectives from other programmers and their experiences with software awards.

While there may indeed be hundreds of legitimate download sites that don't try to pull one over on visitors, I've never strayed far beyond a handful of sites that I have come to know fairly well, such as CNet's,, and

By Brian Krebs  |  August 20, 2007; 10:08 AM ET
Categories:  Fraud , From the Bunker , Latest Warnings , Safety Tips  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Would You Like A Job With That Virus?
Next: Skype Bug Triggered by 'Patch Tuesday'


This reminds me of the SoftRAM incident back during the Windows 95 launch. It was a program that supposedly "doubled your RAM" but in fact it did nothing at all. It was a conscious scam, but it fooled several reviewers. Not everyone was fooled though and they were exposed.

Posted by: Larry Seltzer | August 20, 2007 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Alright--this is nonsense in a way. Many of these sites start with a five-star default, just like many restaurant diners start with a good tip as the default. I'm willing to bet at least a few sites gave it five stars because it's a funny joke, and harmless. I don't know if there's that much really good muck being raked here.

(Try, by the way. A personal favorite.)

Posted by: Mark F. | August 20, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

April Fool in August, eh?

I just couldn't resist. In three pages of Google results I found 8 live download links, 3 more that had caught on and said 'file not found', and a couple more asking for user reviews.

Thanks for a good laugh!

Posted by: Keith Warner | August 20, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Add to this list of dubious practices the wholesale distribution of software that the author has not given permission to do so. Years ago I wrote a small utility for use by BBS operators and specifically put in the description and user manual that this was not to be distributed without my express approval. Not only did it get resold on a series of CDs for profit by the distributor/pirate, but I started getting support requests from people that were outside of the US time zones. Want to guess how furious I was when I received phone calls at 3:30 in the morning from people in Australia?

Posted by: Michael Sanders | August 21, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm. What about all those programs that supposedly fix registry faults? Are they just a con trick too?

Posted by: David Wright | August 21, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

>>> I"m with David Wright <<<
I recently bought Uniblue Registry Booster 2 ($19.95). Their ad exhaults! "Speed Up Your Computer".
(1) It starts out they want you to try their FREE registry cleaner. It, of course, finds hundreds of errors, remainders of deleted programs,etc. But it (the freebie) will only repair 15 of them.
(2) Buy the program -It fixes the 'errors' that I didn't know were there in the first place.
(3) But then, their little window tells you that to 'Speed Up Your Computer', you have to buy their $29.95 upgrade.
(3a) They also let you know what kind of a killer deal you're getting; the program has been marked down from $89.95!!
I wonder? If I follow through to the ultimate end, what will I have gained?
Oh, it comes with a money back gaurantee, but then I wonder; If I demand my money back, how long do they use my money before they cut me a refund check, if at all??

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