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July 28, 2005

Can Podcasts Infect Your Computer?

Not to make you panic or anything, but while reading a newsletter this morning I discovered from a Windows expert that playing a downloaded audio file or short video clip (i.e., Podcast) on your PC could actually infect your computer with a virus or spyware. I'd heard about this before, but never got any of the details...The truth is, some 'Podcatching' applications might be downloading executable files without your knowledge or consent. When run, these executables would play ordinary audio or video files. But, silently, they would install a Trojan horse that would run or download further adware or spyware slowing your machine down. So, despite all the rage and hoopla - podcasts threaten to become another automated way hackers can put viruses and spyware onto our computers if we're not more careful. To make podcasts safer, software developers must enforce a separation of code and data and Podcasts must not be allowed to run scripts on our computers or install executable files, etc.. (As far as I know, no reports of malicious podcasts have been reported yet, but it's not too late for developers to build in more safety into this exciting new technology. With a few simple steps, we can protect ourselves..)

The weak link in protecting users is generally not the podcatchers but the media players themselves. Windows Media Player, iTunes, Quicktime, RealNetworks, and WinAmp have all suffered from serious security holes in the past...As a result, podcatching applications might download "malformed" or hacked multimedia files and the files would appear normal, bearing a typical audio or video extension. But, when played back, these same files could exploit security weaknesses in our media players - especially if you haven't upgraded recently...Those weaknesses then could allow the hacked files to quietly install Trojans,  worms or worse... Your best protection against podcasts that are executable files is to get a podcatcher app that downloads only known multimedia file types. (For example, FeedStation limits its downloads to a list of expected extensions, such as .mp3 and .wmv. Therefore, users are protected by default against rogue files disguised as podcasts!)

These known media player weaknesses have allowed multimedia files to quietly install malware, while the user sees or hears only the expected video or audio clip. Millions of PC users have already been negatively affected by malicious media files that were downloaded manually. It's important to prevent podcasts from being able to automatically exploit media players in the same way...

Posted by Todd in Podcasting | Permalink


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Podcasting is the latest craze in the internet today for it has taken one step in delivering the thoughts of others across different channels in the intetnet.

Posted by: Bikini Heaven | Aug 1, 2007 1:01:18 AM

Podcasting is the new thing in the net, but with the virus included will be a big threat to those of you that download them, they should control it and separate the executable files from the podcast file.

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To make Podcasts safer software developers must enforce a separation of code and data and Podcasts must not be allowed to run scripts on our computers or install executable files etc...........

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Posted by: Brittni Leibel | Apr 5, 2011 3:17:47 AM

This is a great questions. I have a feeling that any type of program or script running on your PC can infect the system. I Would like to know though if this is true.

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I was infected once during a podcast but I am not totally sure that it was the podcast. My son has some other things going on on the PC as well. Please reply if you ever were infected by the PC.

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