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Friday, December 19, 2014

Experience in installing PDFCreator 2.0.x

I have been a long term, though slow to update, user of PDFCreator and recently I have decided to upgrade it to 2.0.0 from 1.7.3.

The installation experience left me with a sense of unease as it triggers the resident shield of my AVG 2015 flagging some files as being a Malware/Trojan/Adware. I will come back to this.

As a result of this alarm, I revisited my trust old friend CutePDF Writer, which has fewer feature than PDFCreator. The installation of CutePDF Writer 3.0 went without tripping my AVG but one has to be on the wit about its attempt to slip in some PUP and toolbars. It is nice to see the installation script offering a feature to skip all the PUP.

Since PDFCreator's installation script trips my AVG, I have decided to investigate this further in a controlled environment. First of all, I went to PDF Forge site to obtain the MD5 of the installation package to make sure I was not using a tainted package.

My investigation used 2.0.1, the latest release to determine what's going on. I use two installation scenarios - with network access and without network access and they have different behavior causing AVG to report different alerts. My experiments with installing PDFCreator do not install Image2PDF and PDFArchitect.

With network access

When the installation package, PDFCreator-2_0_1.exe (MD5:1464dab853dfac75097e6f81fa060c9a), is invoked, the first thing it does is to spawn a process called DownloadUpdateInfo.exe and this runs its twin DownloadUpdateInfo.tmp for a brief moment and then closed down.

After soliciting inputs from the user, it then invokes CBStub.exe which controls the invocation of the process InstallManager.exe. It is at this point that the resident shield of AVG 2015 alerts the user of the presence of a Malware ladden file. It alleges that it is infected with MalSign.Generic.5E6.

This file, together with its companion file, inetc.dll, which appears to be doing the HTML get, put, post, and head operations, are deposited in the %Temp%\. is a randomly generated temporary directory name. They disappear after successful installation and one needs some trickery to capture them.

According to VirusTotal, there are 10 out of 56 Anti-virus tools reporting this file as infected.

What this file does is to offer user a chance to install Ad-Aware Web Companion:
Strange, asking user to install an Ad-Aware component results in being classified as a Malware! What this does is to then invoke the Mntz_Installer.exe, which seems odd as most people on the Internet identifies this as the Opera Network Installer. Whatever this file is, it installs two services, namedly, LavasoftTcpService.exe and Lavasoft.SearchProtect.WinService.exe, which are part of the Web Companion software.

In all fairness, one can safely consider the alert from AVG for InstallManager.exe as a false-positive and can ignore it. If you are running AVG and feel uncomfortable when it raises the alert, it will not harm the operation of PDFCreator if you ask AVG to protect you. In this case, AVG will destroy InstallManager.exe and its subsequent operations.

Without network access

Often, it is advisable to install downloaded software with network disconnected to see if it calls home.

When the PDFCreator installation package is invoked with network disconnected, it does not invoke the DownloadUpdateInfo.exe.

Instead it extracted a bunch of files into a temporary directory %Temp%\ which happens to contain the OCSetupHlp.dll. The presence of this file triggers the AVG 2015's resident shield identifying it as an Adware AdLoad.OpenCandy.

According the VirusTotal, there are 12 out of 56 AV tools identifying it as infected with OpenCandy. Exactly what this being used is unsure but it does not appear to hamper the installation if one asks AVG to remove this offending DLL.

When installing without network access, the installation package will not prompt you about the installing the Ad-Aware Web Companion using the InstallManager.exe and hence it will not trip the AVG's resident shield.

If you examine this DLL's version information and its export functions, it is unambiguously associated with OpenCandy and hence it is fair to say that PDFCreator installation is tainted by OpenCandy but PDFCreator does not seem to have infected with OpenCandy after installation and during its operations.

In view of this, it is fair to say this is also a false-positive even though it is part of OpenCandy system.

The experiments show that while PDFCreator installation package causes AVG to raise alarms during the installation, they are safe and one can safely ask AVG to protect yourself against these files without jeopardising the operations of PDFCreator. PDFCreator runtime does not cause any resident shield alarm.


Anonymous said...

thanks a ton for the explanation...sad Thing is, that the CutePDF Writer also tries to install those toolbars and such but at least i can click that off.

Anonymous said...

Yeah!, thanks a lot for that info, GREAT!

Anonymous said...

If you read carefully you'll find "By clicking Next you agree...".
Simply don't click "Next", instead click "Cancel" which leads to an install without this adware crap.

L. Mar said...

Thanks for the tip. For this kind of software, it is always my practice to install them while I am isolated from the Internet.

Kevin Szabo said...

I recently installed PDFcreator and PDF Architect. The options to skip web-companion are gone and the install hammers in these changes anyway. As well, the search is changed to Yahoo and all my session tabs were clobbered when my firefox startup options were changed. I was NOT HAPPY.

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