Spyware Continues To Proliferate - InformationWeek
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Spyware Continues To Proliferate

Figures released by EarthLink and Webroot show it nearly doubled in the second quarter from the first quarter.

Spyware continues to plague computer users, according to figures released Wednesday by Internet provider EarthLink and anti-adware vendor Webroot.

The companies' third joint SpyAudit report noted that although the incidence of spyware's most dangerous forms--systems monitors such as key loggers and trojans that can open the machine to hacker hijacking--dipped slightly from May to June, they nearly doubled from the first to the second quarters of 2004.

In the first quarter, SpyAudit found some 253,000 pieces of spyware it categorized as system monitors or trojans, while during the second quarter the number jumped to approximately 447,000.

So far this year, the pair have scanned approximately 2.1 million systems and detected an astounding 54.8 million pieces of spyware and adware. The average number of such programs on each PC is 26.5--a number that's remained fairly stable since the first of the year when the companies began their scans.

Adware, defined by Webroot as any advertising-supported program that can put pop-ups, pop-unders, and banners on the screen, remains the dominant form of we-don't-want-it-ware, said the companies. Adware and adware software's cookies account for 98.8% of all the detected spyware.

"The increased prevalence of adware is concerning," said David Moll, Webroot's CEO. "Consumers should know that not all adware is harmless or benign. Some of the most notorious programs in the spyware family are classified as adware."

As proof, EarthLink and Webroot put the spotlight on CoolWebSearch, a particularly virulent form of adware and one of the top adware threats on the Web. Webroot has spotted and written signatures for nearly 100 CWS variations.

"CoolWebSearch is a nasty example of adware that hijacks home pages and Web searches, triggers a crippling amount of pop-ups, and changes a user's browser settings," said Moll. Its most common use is to usurp a user's browser home page and direct him or her to a paying client's site instead. Other variations add porn links to Internet Explorer's Favorites list and add a large number of files to the infected system, reducing overall browsing performance.

EarthLink provides a free spyware scanning tool on its Web site, as does Webroot.

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