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Lenovo in row over adware that compromises user security

The world’s biggest computer manufacturer has been forced to remove virus-like software from its laptops after customer backlash over potential security vulnerabilities.

The software, called Superfish, which was installed on Lenovo’s computers, inserts third party adverts in web browsers such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer without the user’s permission.

According to computer experts, Superfish contains a major security flaw that hackers could potentially exploit to snoop on a user’s web-browsing behaviour. Users have also been complaining about being hit with intrusive 'pop-up' ads.

Lenovo said yesterday that it has disabled Superfish on all computers in January and stopped installing it, but tech experts suggested that it was not possible to remove the software remotely, meaning that the devices could still be vulnerable to attack.

“We stopped the preloads beginning in January. We shut down the server connections that enable the software,” Lenovo said in a statement on its website.

“Finally, we are working directly with Superfish and with other industry partners to ensure we address any possible security issues now and in the future.”

The software is built by an Israeli company of the same name. It is believed that computer manufacturers often preinstall ‘adware’ into their laptops and PCs and make money every time software like Superfish is installed.

Adam Winn, manager at OPSWAT, said that although the intentions may not be malicious “the implementation certainly is”. “Superfish is more than just adware, it’s a man-in-the-middle attack masquerading as adware.”

“In the age of nearly constant security-related headlines, it’s shocking that Lenovo would preinstall software that breaks the SSL trust chain in such a fundamental way.”

Lenovo, which is based in Beijing, declined to reveal how many computers it had shipped with Superfish, and said customers were given a choice about whether or not to use the product.

There is no evidence that hackers have exploited the vulnerability.

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