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Eyeing Spyware

Spyware is starting to emerge from the shadows, and what's becoming clear is just how large the problem is.

Some users experience the computer performance consequences of the problem several times a day. With more than two dozen pieces of spyware lurking on the average PC, surreptitious monitoring software is likely responsible for as many as half of all PC crashes, according to Microsoft. Dell says that a whopping 12 percent of its tech-service calls are related to spyware.

And that doesn't even begin to touch on the questions raised by spyware's role in the security and privacy universe. At best, there's hidden adware and data-mining software that relays user habits to advertisers and marketers; at worst, credit-card numbers and passwords are being fed to those with felonious intent. No wonder these programs are beginning to attract the same sort of congressional attention that spam has been getting for the past several months. In late May, for instance, Utah will enact a Spyware Control Act, complete with a $10,000 fine imposed on those placing unauthorized monitoring software on a computer.

Nor are legislators alone in dealing with the problem. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a one-day spyware hearing aimed at getting a handle on the situation before adware--which still makes up the bulk of spyware--is superseded by more malicious code.

In addition to work being done by spyware-focused companies such as PepiMK Software, PestPatrol, and Webroot Software, the traditional anti-virus industry is ratcheting up its products as well. Recent "protectionware" releases from Symantec, McAfee, and Zone Labs show these companies as being among the vanguard of those actively promoting anti-spyware capabilities alongside virus-detection and -removal products. Microsoft is considering adding anti-spyware capabilities to future versions of Windows and XP Service Packs.

But with an estimated 300,000 spyware and monitoring programs already at large, the odds are good that we'll be spending a lot more time watching for evidence of hidden enemies within our systems.

This story courtesy of TechWeb.

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