Helpful little friends, with a catch - not all widgets are safe
Dec 30, 2007, 12:14 GMT
Hanover - Widgets also known as gadgets are small, self- contained computer programs that generally perform a single task such as displaying the weather or tracking specific stock prices.
Other widgets serve as digital notepads or help the user keep an overview of his or her eBay account. They can even let a user keep an eye under the computer's hood, monitoring the hardware and operating system.
There are thousands of the little tools available online, most available for free download. Their function is usually very simple, but make up for it with a typically very chic appearance. Several operating systems offer their own collection of widgets. The sidebar on Windows Vista for example lets users enter appointments into a calendar or play a new version of the gaming classic Pong.
Mac Users have had access to the Dashboard starting with OS X version 10.4. From there users can use widgets to read and edit Wikipedia articles, monitor their calorie counts or display lyrics for whatever song is currently playing on the computer.
The assortment includes odd-ball mini programs like 'Lobster Petting' - a virtual petting zoo with a lobster as the sole inhabitant - or another widget that provides occasional facts about action movie star Chuck Norris. More than 3,000 widgets are available for download at http://www.apple.com.
'Widgets are for presenting small snippets of information or status reports in a snazzy package,' explains Andreas Beier from the Hanover-based c't magazine.
Used properly, widgets can save time.
'With the Dashboard, for example, pressing one button calls up lots of little programs. Press another button when you're done with them and they're gone again.' That can be helpful if you need to do something small like calculate the exchange rates for a sum of money.
All the same, many users discover over time that not all widgets are really as helpful as they first seem, Beier observers. 'If you spend the entire day with your email programming running, you don't really need a widget to tell you that a new email has arrived.'
Candid Wuest, a security specialist for antivirus software maker Symantec, recommends that users only use widgets from trustworthy sources. One example would be websites of large computer magazines.
'As with all other software, the key is to think things through before downloading something,' says Beier. That's because widgets are often very simply programmed, making it easy for attackers to sneak unwanted software onto a user's computer.
There are admittedly not many reported cases of this to date, but that can also be attributed to the low distribution of widgets, Wuest says.
'It's unfortunately very easy to create malicious software of this kind and use it to cull things like private data. That's why you'll keep seeing it in the future,' Wuest adds.
Software maker Finjan is also warning in its web security report that widgets may become a more common attack point for hackers in future.
'I recommend that users check whether there new versions or security updates for the widgets they already have installed,' says Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Director of Development at Finjan in Netanya, Israel.
What are widgets?
Widgets for Windows and Mac OS are available from a variety of sources like http://widgets.yahoo.com. Mac users can also get their fill of the little programs at Apple's home page (http://www.apple.com). Linux users working with the Gnome desktop environment can find widgets for their system from sources like http://www.gnome-look.org.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur