Free anti-spyware tools not good enough for business

13 Feb 2006

Businesses have been warned not to rely on free software tools to remove spyware as these programs aren’t up to the job.

According to the networking specialist firm TechNiche, many of the freely available software solutions that claim to protect against spyware don’t offer sufficient protection for businesses. Such has been the growth in spyware incidents that the company has seen a 500pc increase in callouts to deal with the problem.

Spyware programs are used to capture people’s confidential information by tracking their activity when using the PC or browsing the internet. They usually operate unknown to the user. Over time, these programs cause PCs to stop functioning properly.

Gareth Madden, sales director with TechNiche, said: “Many companies think deploying free spyware trap solutions is all that needs to be done to stop their network being infected. The truth of the matter is that applications such as Ad-aware, Spybot and Microsoft Anti-Spyware, while they are useful to have, are not hugely effective.”

He pointed out that many of the customers that had contacted TechNiche about spyware problems already had such freeware installed. Madden claimed that centrally managed and configured solutions offer better protection for business systems against spyware.

“Firstly, freeware spyware apps are designed for a single PC, hence they need to be managed at each PC. While this is not an issue for the home user, it is an issue for organisations with even a few PCs. The administration needed to ensure they perform regular scans and updates can be a huge task,” he said.

In addition, these solutions are focused on the effect of spyware and not the cause, Madden claimed. “This means they solely rely on a signature database, so if a new spyware application is not on their database they can’t stop it.”

He claimed that commercially available products such as SurfControl’s Enterprise Threat Shield or CA’s PestPatrol have management features that can prevent spyware from entering a business without relying on databases to check against.

“Spyware is now a much more serious threat whereby it will now grind PCs to a halt or indeed infest itself and attack all other PCs on the network, pretty much the way a virus does,” said Madden. He claimed that there have been instances where spyware has managed to bring down full systems within a matter of hours after infection.

“The small cost involved in buying a solution is quickly cancelled out by the reduced admin costs and support time required to deal with the inadequacies of free solutions,” he said.

Spyware appears to be a growing concern for many businesses it was responsible for 25pc of calls to IT helpdesks, according to data from Gartner last year.

By Gordon Smith