FTC Takes Aim At Spyware

    Date19 Apr 2004
    Posted ByAnthony Pell
    There may be something to be concerned about. Last week, EarthLink and desktop privacy and security company Webroot Software Inc. released a survey of 1 million Internet users. They found that those systems averaged 28 applications each. Of the 29 million spyware applications they spotted, the majority were largely benign-but-annoying adware. More disturbing, they found more than 300,000 programs running on the 1 million systems surveyed designed to steal personal information and even potentially give attackers access to users' systems. The survey also found more than 30% of all systems scanned were infected with Trojan horses or system-monitoring applications. . . . Spyware, software that collects personal information about Web-surfing habits or application usage, is a growing concern. Opponents say the software violates privacy rights and can bog down Internet and computer performance. At its worst, spyware can usurp private information, including passwords and banking information.

    The Federal Trade Commission is taking notice; it's holding a full-day workshop in Washington on the topic Monday.

    Spyware typically is installed on a user's computer without his or her consent. Or, if a software maker is up-front about its presence, the fact that it exists is so deeply embedded in the software license agreement that most users don't know they've agreed to be watched when they click "I Agree."

    What most people call spyware today is actually adware--small applications installed on PCs from Web sites or peer-to-peer file-sharing programs to track a user's interests and Web-surfing habits. The software is used to display targeted advertisements. But the FTC is concerned that hackers may start using the technology to steal personal information, such as bank account and Social Security numbers, to conduct fraud and identity theft.

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