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Advertising Spyware: PhoenixNet BIOS

Update: As of sometime 2001, PhoenixNet BIOS has been discontinued and is no longer being produced. Phoenix Technologies cites the demise of the Internet advertising market as the reason for discontinuing the product.

PhoenexNet is a combination of Windows software and functions embedded in the BIOS of PhoenixNet-enabled motherboards. Its purpose is
It presents users with (sponsored) Web site links and (sponsored) software downloads, "Special Offers" (!), company logos on the boot screen, and the like. It also allows the PC vendor (or third-parties?) to change your browser's Home and default search pages, and determine the hardware in your system, as well as perform remote troubleshooting/support (i.e. tinker with your system settings).

A grc.spyware regular writes:

Newer motherbords have a firmware program on them call PhoenixNet that seem to be phoning home by default upon powerup of motherboard. It is activated once it senses Win98 and an internet connection. I've started a descussion on the security forum of DSLReports about this. The big thing is what is it sending back. link on dslreports,826520;root=security,1;mode=flat

Following are excerpts from the PhoenixNet website: Particularly unnerving clauses are highlighted.

Q. Why should I install PhoenixNet solutions for my end-users?
A. Installing PhoenixNet solutions will provide tools and software applications to help your end-users get the most out of their computer. It provides them with a personalized web-browsing experience, essential business applications and special offers from leading online services. In addition, the home and search settings will be customized for consistency with the system settings for country and language, a particular benefit to users located outside of North America.

Q. What are the benefits of becoming a PhoenixNet Partner?
A. PhoenixNet Partners with a Partner ID can participate in upcoming incentive and co-marketing programs and can receive e-mail bulletins on the latest end-user tools as they are added.

Q. What is the difference between installing a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard and a non-PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard?
A. If your computer is built with a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard, a portion of the PhoenixNet software resides safely within the BIOS ROM (Read Only Memory). PhoenixNet solutions launch automatically at the initial start-up of your new PC and it sets the home page and search page default based on system settings detected on the computer. If you don't have a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard, PhoenixNet software is available on the CD-ROM containing the motherboard drivers. If you decide to pre-install PhoenixNet software for your end-user, the home page and search page will be automatically set up the first time the end-user connects to the Internet.

Q. How do I put my company logo and branding information on the Graphic Launch Screen?
A. First you need to ensure that your PCs have a PhoenixNet-enabled motherboard. Second, you need to have a PhoenixNet Partner ID. Lastly, you need to obtain a software utility from PhoenixNet which will enable you to add your logo and company information to the Graphic Launch Screen. [...]

Q. What options do I have for pre-installing PhoenixNet solutions?
A. You have several options to select from during the PhoenixNet solutions installation:

PhoenixNet™ invites you to join our other partners in our global valued-added distribution network. Contact us by e-mail, fax or phone, and please tell us about your business, to find out how PhoenixNet can expand your marketing efforts and the value of your systems [...].

According to a document from the Phoenix website: <>

B. BIOS Security Services
Because external clients must access security information or functionality only the BIOS can provide, PhoenixBIOS provides BIOS Security Services for both internal clients (such as Setup nodes) and external clients not linked with the BIOS. This new technology uses two tables, one that defines security states and the other that defines the permissions under which access to a device is allowed. It is also possible to govern individual Setup items with separate security provisions. The BIOS Security Services provide a mechanism for external clients to extract information from the BIOS or instruct the BIOS to perform a specific function.

From a motherboard manual:
4.1.2 PhoenixNet Online Services
When the PhoenixNet ILS detects an Internet connection, it makes contact with the PhoenixNet server and delivers user-selectable services from PhoenixNet's Internet Partners. These services are delivered to the user as hotlinks on the desktop and in the web browser or, as applications that PhoenixNet automatically packages, downloads and installs.

More links:
PhoenixNet Web Site
FAQs - heavy with marketing-speak, put on your waders before entering
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Review of PhoenixNet @ LostCircuits

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