Spyware threat increasing

21 Oct 2005

Businesses have been warned that malicious forms of spyware are a growing threat because these types of programs are being written for financial gain and can be difficult to detect and remove.

Spyware programs are used to capture people’s confidential information by tracking their activity when using the PC or browsing the internet. Many of these, known as adware, are relatively benign and legitimate, often used by genuine websites for marketing activities. However, more malicious strains of spyware have begun to emerge. Most of them operate unknown to the user and in some cases, the data they obtain could be sent to a third party who could use this information to access a person’s bank account or a company’s network.

Speaking yesterday at a seminar on spyware organised by the IT security supplier Entropy, Seán Reynolds, managing director of the security consultancy Rits, said these attacks are increasingly motivated by profit. “What’s driving this is money: people are trying to steal money or secrets and someone is trying to gain from it.”

Peter Craig, solutions marketing manager for Trend Micro, said the problem was a growing problem for many businesses. He cited figures from the research firm Gartner, which showed that 25pc of IT helpdesk time last year involved dealing with spyware. “It’s unlikely that you’ll have no spyware within your organisation,” he said.

According to Frank Coggrave, regional director for UK and Ireland with Websense, many spyware tools are now being written to avoid detection or being removed by security software. “Developers know what those products do and know how to hide from them,” he said.

Robert Early, security architect with Entropy, added that some types of spyware are designed to prevent people from easily removing them once they have been discovered on a PC, or even to reinstall themselves if an attempt is made to delete them. He warned that free spyware removal tools sometimes do the opposite of what they claim and advised businesses to adopt a layered approach to defending their systems, using anti-spyware tools, filtering products and web gateways. He also recommended companies try to control the downloading and installing of unauthorised software.

Coggrave pointed out there was no ‘silver bullet’ product to solve the problem. “It’s not going to be from a single vendor. Blended threats require blended solutions. You should not rely on one thing and one thing only.”

By Gordon Smith