Spyware, those annoying programs that snoop on a user's actions, remain a Windows-only phenomenon. Prominent anti-spyware developer Webroot says it has yet to detect a single Apple or Linux spyware app. In comparison, Webroot's Spy Sweeper software protects against 15,000 Windows threats.
Although Apple and Linux server worms (such as Lion) have been detected, their population is dwarfed by the proliferation of Windows-specific worms, viruses and Trojans. The main reason for this is that virus - and spyware authors - write malware for the most common platform.
According to Webroot, the majority of spyware developers are based in Eastern Europe and come from a similar background as virus authors, though it doesn't know this for sure. Richard Stiennon, VP of threat research at Webroot, said that vulnerabilities in IE made the job of spyware authors much easier. He said malware and virus authors are similar in character - except for the fact malware authors are motivated by money.
Porn affiliate programs create market for spyware
The lines between spyware are other types of malicious code are becoming blurred. Computer viruses and worms use mass propagation from infected machine whereas spyware doesn't - relying instead on piggybacking on other apps or social engineering tricks to spread. Spyware generates a direct income.
Spyware apps such as CoolWebSearch (CWS) change the IE home pages of users to that of porn sites. This generates traffic to those sites that both their operators and spyware authors, who participate in various affiliate programs, can benefit from. Porn sites can still make money from unwilling visitors through ads for other sites, removing the financial incentive for them to clamp down on the practice.
Webroot provides the technology for Earthlink's Spy Audit service. PCs submitted to the service contained an average of 26 items of spyware, according to statistics released earlier this month. The vast majority of this problem is down to adware-related cookies or applications rather than more compromising Trojan infestation.
Between 50 to 70 per cent of helpdesk calls are generated by spyware apps, according to Webroot. Spyware apps are commonly hosted on sex sites. Generally spyware becomes loaded on user's PCs with some degree or user permission but more invasive spyware apps install themselves on Windows machines by exploiting well-known IE exploits. File sharing apps and porn sites are the main conduits for spyware propagation, according to Christine Stevenson, VP of marketing at Webroot.
"The only value of spyware apps is if they stay on user's machines. Spyware can leave remnants of itself or PCs to reload itself even if users might they have removed it or reinstall itself under a different name. It can be very difficult to shift," said Stevenson.
Former spam king Sanford Wallace was this week sued by the Federal Trade Commission following complaints that companies he runs - Seismic Entertainment Productions and SmartBot.Net - distributed spyware. ®