China's Lenovo Group Ltd, the world's largest PC maker, said on Thursday it will no longer pre-install software that cybersecurity experts said was malicious and made devices vulnerable to hacking.
Lenovo had come under fire from security researchers who said earlier on Thursday the company pre-installed a virus-like software from a company called Superfish on consumer laptops that hijacked web connections and allowed them to be spied upon.
Users reported as early as last June that a programme, also called Superfish, was 'adware', or software that automatically displays adverts.
Superfish will no longer be pre-installed and has been disabled on all products in the market since January, when Lenovo also stopped pre-installing the software, said a Lenovo spokesman in an email to Reuters on Thursday. Superfish was included on some consumer notebooks shipped between October and December, he said.
"We have thoroughly investigated this technology and do not find any evidence to substantiate security concerns," the spokesman said. Superfish "does not profile nor monitor user behaviour. It does not record user information. It does not know who the user is. Users are not tracked nor re-targeted... The relationship with Superfish is not financially significant."
On Friday, the Lenovo United States Twitter handle provided instructions on how to remove the Superfish software and root certificate, guiding users to its support forums page.
We're sorry. We messed up. We're owning it. And we're making sure it never happens again. Fully uninstall Superfish: http://t.co/mSSUwp5EQE-- Lenovo United States (@lenovoUS) February 20, 2015
Robert Graham, CEO of U.S.-based security research firm Errata Security, said Superfish was malicious software that hijacks and throws open encrypted connections, paving the way for hackers to also commandeer these connections and eavesdrop, in what is known as a man-in-the-middle attack.
"This hurts (Lenovo's) reputation," Graham told Reuters. "It demonstrates the deep flaw that the company neither knows nor cares what it bundles on their laptops."
Graham and other experts said Lenovo was negligent, and that computers could still be vulnerable even after uninstalling Superfish. The software throws open encryptions by giving itself authority to take over connections and declare them as trusted and secure, even when they are not.
Graham added that Lenovo's method of removing the root certificate doesn't do so for users utilising the Firefox browser, and provides instructions on how to do it: " For Firefox, click on the main menu "Options", "Advanced", "Certificates". The Certificate Manager pops up. Scroll down, select "Superfish, Inc.", then "Delete or Detrust"."
"The way the Superfish functionality appears to work means that they must be intercepting traffic in order to insert the ads," said Eric Rand, a researcher at Brown Hat Security. "This amounts to a wiretap."
Concerns about cybersecurity have dogged Chinese firms, including telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies Ltdn over ties to China's government and smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc over data privacy.
Lenovo commanded one-fifth of the global PC market in the third quarter of 2014, according to data research firm IDC.
© Thomson Reuters 2015