Proxy server configured to

On January 4, 2015, after installing software my wife wanted on a new system I was setting up for her, I mistyped the fully qualified domainname (FQDN) for a website in a browser. To my surprise, I saw a reference to in the browser's address bar. When I retyped the correct address, the page I wanted appeared. I tried mistyping a few other domain names and putting in some site names I knew were bogus since the domains had never been registered. Every time I did that I saw a reference to the webhostoid system appear in the address bar. E.g., I tried and saw the following address appear in the address bar:®=False&redirectms=True&process=iexplore

And the error message below was displayed:

502 Error

It appears the website you are trying to visit is having technical difficulties or is no longer available.

Please go back and try your request again or try searching Google to find another website with what you're looking for!

I suspected some software on the system was now redirecting web traffic to the site. When I checked the proxy server settings in Internet Explorer - see Checking Microsoft Windows proxy server settings - I found the system was now configured to route all HTTP and HTTPS traffic to a proxy server listening on the system local loopback address , i.e.,, on port 55833. I.e., traffic to websites from the system was now being routed through proxy server software running on the system itself that had been installed on the system without my permission. Note: the port this malware uses for the proxy server it installs will vary; when I later rebooted the system I found the registry entry it uses to specify the proxy server port had been changed to 64696.

You can check the port the Genius Box malware is using for its proxy server setting from a command with a reg query command.

C:\>reg query "HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings" /v ProxyServer

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings
    ProxyServer    REG_SZ    http=;https=

Since I had not knowingly granted any software the right to set itself up as a proxy server on the system, I blocked the system's access to the Internet at the firewall and began investigating this unwanted and suspicous alteration to the system's configuration.

After blocking access to the Internet by the system, I tried accessing another website through a browser on the system and saw the following:

[GeniusBox] The socket connection to failed.
ErrorCode: 10060.
A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond

I blocked access to the Internet by the system, but left its access to the DNS server on the LAN in place, so it could look up IP addresses for domain names, but couldn't access systems outside of the LAN.

Later, when I checked the IP address of the webhostoid host with nslookup, I saw the IP address below:


Checking both the and through the American Registry for Internet Numbers website, I found the IP addresses had been assigned to Amazon Technologies, so webhostoid appeared to be using Amazon Web Services .

Microsoft Windows systems store the IP address for a proxy server Windows has been configured to use in the Windows Registry under HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings. If you check the value for ProxyServer there, you will see the IP address and port number being used for a proxy server, if one is being used. I wanted to know when that registry value had last been modified. The Windows regedit tool doesn't display the time stamp for when a registry value was last modified, so I searched for ProxyServer with RegScanner, a free tool from NirSoft. It indicated that the ProxyServer value had been set under HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-21-3084690208-3888753220-1328190815-1115\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings at 5:04:35 PM on January 4, 2015. The Security Identifier (SID) under HKEY_USERS, i.e., the id beginning with "S-1-5-21" was the SID for the currently logged on user.

RegScanner - ProxyServer

I track the registry and file changes to a system when I install software with Total Uninstall, so I examined its log of the changes made when I installed Vuze Bittorrent Client, which had been on the list of software my wife wanted installed on the system, since Total Uninstall indicated the installation of that program had completed at 5:06 PM on January 4, 2015, i.e., when the installation of Vuze was completed and I indicated to Total Uninstall that it should report on the changes, it had completed its assessment less than two minutes after the proxy server value had been set in the registry. The Total Uninstall report showed a GeniusBox directory was created during the installation of Vuze with a settings.config file being created in the GeniusBox directory at 5:04 PM. The contents of that directory are listed below:

C:\>dir /ad %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local | find /i "GeniusBox"
01/04/2015  05:04 PM    <DIR>          GeniusBox

C:\>dir /s %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Genius
 Volume in drive C has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is 5C60-1B61

 Directory of C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox

01/04/2015  05:04 PM    <DIR>          .
01/04/2015  05:04 PM    <DIR>          ..
12/18/2014  03:43 PM             8,704 certmanager.exe
12/29/2014  03:11 PM           872,672 Client.exe
12/18/2014  03:43 PM            55,632 makecert.exe
01/04/2015  05:04 PM    <DIR>          Resources
01/04/2015  05:04 PM               115 settings.config
12/29/2014  03:11 PM            18,656 Tasks.exe
01/04/2015  05:04 PM               913 TrustedRoot.cer
12/29/2014  03:11 PM           761,056 Uninstall.exe
12/29/2014  03:11 PM           750,304 Updater.exe
               8 File(s)      2,468,052 bytes

 Directory of C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\Resources

01/04/2015  05:04 PM    <DIR>          .
01/04/2015  05:04 PM    <DIR>          ..
12/18/2014  03:43 PM            90,112 certutil.exe
12/18/2014  03:43 PM           208,896 libnspr4.dll
12/18/2014  03:43 PM            28,672 libplc4.dll
12/18/2014  03:43 PM            24,576 libplds4.dll
12/18/2014  03:43 PM           364,544 nss3.dll
12/18/2014  03:43 PM           106,496 smime3.dll
12/18/2014  03:43 PM           372,736 softokn3.dll
               7 File(s)      1,196,032 bytes

     Total Files Listed:
              15 File(s)      3,664,084 bytes
	       5 Dir(s)  3,916,020,883,456 bytes free

The %USERPROFILE% environment variable points to the current user's profile directory, usually C:\Users\Username where Username is the account name for the user.

The presence of files named certutil, certmanager.exe , makecert.exe, and TrustedRoot.cer looked ominous, since at this point it appeared this "GeniusBox" software configured the system so it could monitor HTTPS, i.e., the encrypted web traffic, as well as the unencrypted HTTP traffic. Their presence made me wonder if this dangerous digital ordure had positioned itself for a man-in-the-middle attack by putting a security certificate on the system that would allow it to decrypt and eavesdrop on HTTPS traffic giving it access to login ids and passwords to otherwise secure sites, with the potential to steal banking credentials, credit card numbers, as well as other sensitive information. See Viewing the Trusted Root certificates on a Windows system for instructions on how to view the trusted root certificates on a Microsoft Windows system and for further information on the trusted root certificate installed by the GeniusBox malware.

I right-clicked on the TrustedRoot.cer file in the GeniusBox directory and chose "Open", which on a Microsoft Windows system will provide details on the certificate. I saw the following:

Generic Category (English)120x600

DO_NOT_TRUST root certificate

The details under the General tab were as follows:

Issued to: DO_NOT_TRUST_FiddlerRoot
Issued by: DO_NOT_TRUST_FiddlerRoot
Valid from12/28/2014 to 12/27/2025

When I clicked on the Certification Path tab, the only entry I saw under "Certification path" was DO_NOT_TRUST_FiddlerRoot

Certification Path - 

The starting date for the "Valid from" date range was December 28, 2014. All of the files in the %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\Resources directory had a date stamp of December 18, 2014 and many of the files in the %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\GeniusBox directory had a date of December 29, 2014, making the starting date on the certificate consistent with the installation of this malware during the installation of Vuze.

It appears the Genius Box adware may have used the Microsoft Makecert.exe (Certificate Creation Tool), since when I right-clicked on the makecert.exe program in the GeniusBox directory and chose Properties, and then clicked on the Details tab, I saw Microsoft Corporation listed as the value for "Copyright" - see Makecert.exe Properties .

I didn't see Microsoft Corporation listed when I checked the properties of the certmanager.exe file (see image) in the GeniusBox directory. Microsoft's command line tool is Certmgr.exe (Certificate Manager Tool). There was no copyright information displayed for Client.exe, either. When I checked the digital signature on the file - see Checking the digital signature for a file under Microsoft Windows - I found it was signed by JoltLogic, a known adware purveyor. When I checked the Details tab under Properties for Tasks.exe, I saw "Copright © 2014", but no company or invidual was identified. Checking its digital signature, I fond it was also signed by JoltLogic.

Windows PowerShell
Copyright (C) 2014 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

PS C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox> Get-AuthenticodeSignature Tasks.exe | Format-List

SignerCertificate      : [Subject]
                           CN=Joltlogic, O=Joltlogic, STREET=4600 Madison Ave
                         FL 10, L=Kansas City, S=Missouri, PostalCode=64112,

                           CN=COMODO Code Signing CA 2, O=COMODO CA Limited,
                         L=Salford, S=Greater Manchester, C=GB

                         [Serial Number]

                         [Not Before]
                           7/15/2014 8:00:00 PM

                         [Not After]
                           7/16/2015 7:59:59 PM


TimeStamperCertificate :
Status                 : Valid
StatusMessage          : Signature verified.
Path                   : C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\Tasks.exe

PS C:\Users\Thorlack\AppData\Local\GeniusBox> exit

Looking for text strings within it using the Sysinternals strings program, I saw the following included within it as well as others:

uninstall.exe /
Updater.exe /
software\Search Extensions

The nss3.dll file in the GeniusBox subdirectory Resources has copyright information for Netscape Communications (image), a company responsible for an early browser, Netscape Navigator, which released its source code and created the Mozilla Organization , which now produces the free and open-source browser Firefox. All of the other DLL files in the GeniusBox\Resources directory display Netscape Communications copyright information when the properties information is viewed.

The certutil.exe program in the GeniusBox\Resources directory has no identifying copyright information nor is it digitally signed. It uses the .dll files in the directory as can be seen by checking it with the Sysinternals strings utility. You can see the arguments it takes by running it from a command prompt with no arguments.

The certificate the adware inserted into the root certificates list refers to Fiddler. The Fiddler proxy server application was created by Eric Lawrence, who was formerly a Program Manager on the Internet Explorer development team at Microsoft. Fiddler can capture both HTTP and HTTPS traffic and log it for later examination by utilizing a man-in-the-middle system using a self-signed certificate. From its position in the middle of a web browser and a web server, Fiddler can also modify, or "fiddle" with the traffic, if you will, from one system to another without either of the end parties being aware that Fiddler has modified traffic from or to them. Further information on the tool is also available at Decrypting HTTPS-protected traffic. The FAQ on that site notes in regards to the decryption of HTTPS:

Q: The HTTPS protocol was designed to prevent traffic viewing and tampering. Given that, how can Fiddler2 debug HTTPS traffic?

A: Fiddler2 relies on a "man-in-the-middle" approach to HTTPS interception. To your web browser, Fiddler2 claims to be the secure web server, and to the web server, Fiddler2 mimics the web browser. In order to pretend to be the web server, Fiddler2 dynamically generates a HTTPS certificate.

At the Decrypting HTTPS-protected traffic page, you can see that Fiddler generates a certificate with the Certificate Authority (CA) listed as "DO_NOT_TRUST_FiddlerRoot".

Fiddler was subsequently acquired by another company, Telerik, a Bulgarian company which offers software tools for application development. The software can be downloaded for free from the company's website at Fiddler free web debugging proxy.

The "Key Features" section of the company's page for Fiddler notes that the software can "easily manipulate and edit web sessions", "decrypt HTTPS traffic and display and modify requests using a man-in-the-middle decryption technique", and "Fiddler is a free web debugging proxy which logs all HTTP(s) traffic between your computer and the Internet."

The Fiddler software has legitimate traffic analysis and debugging uses, but in this case, Genius Box appears to be using a similar technique for nefarious purposes. Using RegScanner to search through the Windows registry for references to Fiddler, I found the following:

Registry Key HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
NameImport FF:0
Data "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\Resources\certutil.exe" -A -n "DO_NOT_TRUST_FiddlerRoot" -t "TCu,TCu,TCu" -i "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\TrustedRoot.cer" -d "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\l7fnkeja.default"
Key Modified Time 1/4/2015 5:04:35 PM
Data Length 261

Though the GeniusBox software may only be generating a similar root certificate as the one used by Fiddler, but not actually incorporating Fiddler code, the GeniusBox software does seem to be using a similar technique. It seems clear to me at this point that this adware/spyware has completely nullified any chance for security on the system on which Vuze and it were installed when the account under which Vuze was installed is used on the system for visiting websites, even ones that might otherwise be secure by the use of HTTPS to encrypt traffic between the client browser and the web server, since this software can intercept all traffic and could provide its own credentials to the brower in place of any from any site visited, even a banking site. It could intercept any userids, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. and could do with those whatever the developers of the software might choose to do with the information now accessible to them through giving their software man-in-the-middle attack capabilities.

I found that the software only runs when a login is made to the account under which Vuze, and thus the Genius Box software, was installed. But, if that account had more than standard user account access to the system, I would still be concerned about the safety of other accounts on the system, though I didn't see the proxy server not the assoicated Genius Box tasks in the Task Scheduler running.

Other system changes I noted from the installation of the Genius Box software include the creation of three scheduled tasks, which run when a logon occurs for the account under which the Vuze software is installed. When this adware is installed it creates scheduled tasks for itself in the Windows Task Scheduler. You can search on Schedule Tasks in Windows to locate and run the Task Scheduler. In the Task Scheduler Library, you will see a task named "GeniusBox". The security options for the task include "Run when user is logged on" and "Run with highest privileges". If you click on the Triggers tab, you will see a one time setting reflecting the day and time the adware was installed and then a scheduled rerunning of the software periodically after that as well as a trigger to run it "At log on of any user". E.g., on the infected system I checked, I saw the following in the "Details" field for the "One time" trigger (image):

At 5:04 PM on 1/4/2015 - After triggered, repeat every 06:00:00 indefinitely."

Under the Actions tab, I saw "Start a progam" listed as the action with the following under the Details tab:

cmd.exe /C start "" "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\client.exe"

You can click on the History tab to see the history of the activation of the scheduled task.

Since this malware was installed, I've seen "Tasks has stopped working" windows appear (image), which I suspect may be the GeniusBox tasks.exe program crashing, perhaps because I've blocked any access from the system to the Internet.

Another scheduled task named "Check Updates" is also created by the installation of GeniusBox (image) It is also configured to "Run ony when user is logged on" and to "Run with highest privileges". The triggers are the same as for the GeniusBox scheduled task. The actions specified for it are to run the updater.exe and tasks.exe files in the GeniusBox directory.

A third scheduled task created by the GeniusBox software is "Validate Installation" (image). The triggrs are exactly the same as the other two tasks with the task scheduled to run indefinitely. The actions are to run the updater.exe and uninstall.exe programs in the GeniusBox directory.

You can uninstall the Genius Box software by going to Uninstall a program from the Programs section of the Control Panel. The entry for the software is named "GeniusBox 2.0"; the publisher is also listed as "GeniusBox 2.0". When I double-clicked on it, a GeniusBox Uninstall window opened.

GeniusBox Uninstall

When I clicked on Continue in that window, I saw an "Uninstall complete" window shortly afterwards. When I checked the registry afterwards, I saw the ProxyServer value had been removed from HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings and ProxyEnable was reset to 0 (image). I also saw the three scheduled tasks were removed. It also removed the registry key under HKEY_USERS at \Software\Microsoft\FiddlerCore it had created at the installation of the software. It also deleted all files it had created in the AppData\Local directory. Checking the entries listed under the Logon tab with the Sysinternals Autoruns utility, a program which shows which programs will run when the system boots or a user logs into the system, I found that the GeniusBox uninstall process had not removed Import FF:0 within the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce registry key, which had a value of "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\Resources\certutil.exe" -A -n "DO_NOT_TRUST_FiddlerRoot" -t "TCu,TCu,TCu" -i "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Local\GeniusBox\TrustedRoot.cer" -d "C:\Users\JDoe\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\l7fnkeja.default", though. I manually deleted that entry from the registry using regedit by right-clicking on it and choosing "delete". So GeniusBox does actually remove itself itself and does a fairly good job of cleaning up after itself when removed. But given the means it used to convey ads, by use of a proxy server and the installation of its own security certificate into the root certificates list, anyone with a system on which the software was installed appears to be at the mercy of the JoltLogic developer(s), since their software appears to grant them the capability to spy on all web traffic from the system when the account under which it was installed is used. Do they only use the software to display ads? Perhaps, but given that they appear to have the capability to engage in much more nefarious activities would you want to make yourself so vulnerable by allowing their software the capapbility to snoop on all web traffic for the affected account on a system?

I am aware that some free software comes bundled with additional software from other companies/developers, sometimes adware like the GeniusBox software. When I install software, I always pick the "advanced" or "custom" install options when they are available to give me the chance to opt out of bundled software I don't want, avoid shortcuts being created on the desktop, and select the installation directory. I believed I had opted out of all of the bundled software that came with Vuze in this case. Perhaps I thought I had declined the installation of this bundled adware, but had failed to do so. Perhaps I hit Enter thinking I had declined it - see Avoiding the installation of adware when installing Vuze - when the window appears regarding the installation of GeniusBox during a custom installation. I'm willing to accept that as the explanation, but at this point I must conclude that one must be very careful when installing Vuze to avoid its bundled adware.

I certainly understand the need to cover development costs for software, but the fact that Vuze bundled the GeniusBox software with their software and the manner in which the GeniusBox software operates does not give me confidence that the Vuze software can be regarded as safe, unless care is taken by users when installing it to avoid its bundled adware. I feel the developers/publishers of Vuze must be regarded with some wariness, since they seem to have little regard for the privacy and security of the users of their product when they bundle such other software with their own. I.e., are they unaware of how this bundled software achieves its ends, or did they simply not even check on how it operates, or did they simply not care?


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Created: Monday January 19, 2015