PCs scanned using a free scanning service from US ISP giant EarthLink harboured an average of 28 items of spyware, according to figures published yesterday.
Earthlink's service, which uses Webroot's Spy Audit detection program, found that most of the items were harmless cookies. But more than 300,000 serious system monitors (e.g. key loggers) and Trojans were uncovered during the course of just over one million Spy Audit scans. Even allowing for the fact most PCs would have several infections the figure - which covers scans conducted during the first three months of this year - is still very high.
Anybody can use Spy Audit but the service is limited: it only tells you that you have spyware installed without providing an immediate means to remove it (so it's a Spyware counter not a killer). Earthlink's access packages come with spyware blocking technology, so it is helping its own subscribers to deal with the issue. For the rest of us there are some good free tools - such as Lavasoft's Ad-aware - which do allow user remove spyware from their PCs.
That aside, Earthlink and Webroot are helping to raise awareness about a growing security problem. Spyware applications can be defined as programs that secretly forward information about a user's online activities to third parties without a user's knowledge or permission. Typically, spyware arrives bundled with freeware or shareware games or P2P applications or through email. People disagree about definitions of spyware even more than they disagree about spam. Developers of products labelled as spyware are only too ready to go to law in defence of their reputations. ®