Irish firms in the dark over spyware threat

31 Jan 2006

Almost a third of Irish companies are mistakenly using antivirus and firewall software thinking that it stops spyware, new research has uncovered. In addition, 47pc of firms are only scanning for the presence of spyware once a month.

The survey reveals flawed practices by some Irish companies according to MJ Flood Technology, a Dublin-based provider of communications solutions which carried out the research.

Spyware, sometimes known as badware, refers to programs that are downloaded to users’ computers, often without their knowledge. They then send information such as website visiting habits or even account passwords via the internet to a third party.

“There is a great deal of confusion about spyware and the level of threat it poses,” said James Finglas, sales director with MJ Flood Technology. “Some 47pc of organisations are scanning as little as once a month for the presence of spyware, indicating that a substantial number are not following best practice and are failing to deploy the type of solution required to block infection.”

Spyware’s threat lies in the fact that its presence is often hidden from the user and that its functions are not obvious, Finglas explained. “Traditional client security tools will not block spyware which can enter the PC via normal HTTP traffic and almost one third of surveyed companies believe they are protected when in fact they are not.”

Two out of five respondents said they use desktop-based anti-spyware tool, but this has to be activated by the user in order to work. MJ Flood Technology advocates using server-based software, as this can be centrally controlled and managed by pushing regular updates out to each individual client machine and preventing infection.

The survey also found that 32pc of companies said their outsourced IT service provider had never raised the issue of spyware with them. “We believe that this represents a serious educational deficit which needs to be immediately addressed by the IT community,” Finglas said.

The survey was prompted by an increase in the number of spyware-related calls to MJ Flood Technology’s helpdesk. Callers were reporting unusual web browser behaviour and computer crashes – telltale signs of spyware infection. MJ Flood Technology issued 800 requests to participate in its online survey and received 98 replies.

A survey last year for the Make IT Secure awareness campaign found that three out of four Irish people didn’t even know what the term spyware meant. There was clearly some interest in finding out more: the most visited section on the campaign website was the page dedicated to spyware.

By Gordon Smith