VARs, Vendors Determined To Snuff Out Spyware

As the problem skyrockets, solution providers are combining vendor solutions for elimination with value-added services that revolve around monitoring and management.

"This problem is way bigger than most people think," said Michael Speca, vice president of systems management at Invoke Systems, a solution provider in Baltimore. "Whether a company is battling a virus or spyware, the fundamental concept of malicious code is the same in every medium, and it's our job to stop it."

Secretly piggybacking on downloaded Internet software, spyware passes through a corporate firewall and either slows traffic with pop-up advertisements or transmits information about computer usage back to its creator. The threat is as common as it is complex. An April 15 report from ISP EarthLink and WebRoot Software indicated that the average computer is crammed with 28 pieces of spyware.

With such widespread implications, government officials are taking the threat seriously. In the U.S. Congress, at least three bills have been introduced in the past six months to address the problem, and in late May, Utah will enact the Spyware Control Act, which calls for a $10,000 fine for violators.

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Vendors are also taking steps to combat spyware. Last month, Zone Labs unveiled a new version of its Integrity software designed to detect and disable spyware. Products from vendors such as Symantec, McAfee and Cisco Systems include some of the same capabilities. Even Bluecoat, a Web-traffic assessment vendor in Sunnyvale, Calif., has gotten in on the act by adding spyware capabilities to its ProxySG device.

"By tracking Web traffic, we can track user behavior and get a sense of whether someone's computer is infected," said Steve Mullaney, Bluecoat's vice president of marketing. "Once you have visibility of what's going on inside the network, it's a whole lot easier to determine whether certain behaviors are unauthorized."

Solution providers also report a handful of alternatives. Joseph Dell, CTO at Vigilar, Atlanta, said he includes spyware solutions within the broader category of inline intrusion-detection and -prevention products. Tools high on his list: Fortinet's FortiGate firewall and UnityOne from TippingPoint.

Government officials are taking the spyware threat seriously. In Congress, at least three bills intoduced in the past six months address the issue.

AAAntivirus, a Campbell, Calif.-based solution provider, packages spyware services with antivirus solutions from Sybari and Hauri, a Korean company that launched a U.S. channel program earlier this year, said AAAntivirus CEO Roy Miehe. Miehe added that most customers think spyware is only an annoying hassle, instead of a critical threat, and so education is a critical,and lucrative,component of his business.

Dennis O'Connell, director of sales at Meridian IT Solutions, Schaumburg, Ill., agreed, noting that for some businesses, spyware has become worse than spam. O'Connell said he educates customers by impressing on them the importance of traffic assessment and general network health.

"Our opportunity is to present policy improvements and a more layered approach to security architecture," O'Connell said. "[Customers] need to have strong policy and protection at the gateway, server and client levels."