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As spyware grows, efforts to defeat it also increase
by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


February 15, 2005

It's the computer era's version of an earlier generation's spy vs. spy intrigue.

Software companies are devising new ways to remove spyware lurking in your computers.

Symantec Corp. Monday rolled out a new generation of spyware-killing programs for its corporate clients and vows to produce a version for home computer users within five months. Microsoft also is offering users experimental versions of new software to combat spyware.

Computer manufacturer Dell reports that spyware has become the No. 1 source of computer complaints that it deals with. Some industry studies estimate 67 percent of computers are infected with the phantom programs.

Spyware refers to the bugs that surfers pick up when they visit various Internet pages. Some come wrapped in free programs, others are downloaded when someone visits Internet Web sites or clicks on links inside spam e-mail messages.

Once installed, spyware programs can hijack computer operations. Some trigger programs that barrage computer users with unwanted pop-up ads, but more malicious versions of spyware silently collect information on computer key strokes or other user data that the spyware program then sends back to headquarters.

"Over the course of the last year, this has become a top issue for our customers," said Brian Foster, senior director of Symantec's product management division.

Foster said health and insurance companies are particularly concerned that spyware could collect sensitive medical information on their clients. Other businesses complain that spyware slows their systems and is costing them money because technicians have to waste time removing the intruder from computers.

The Federal Trade Commission last year filed its first spyware suit seeking to shut down the operations of Seismic Entertainment Productions, a company that allegedly installed spyware on computers that barraged users with pop-up ads, then charged $30 for its Spy Wiper and Spy Deleter software programs.

The suit was brought under the FTC's anti-fraud statutes. The agency is considering whether to ask Congress for new authority to regulate spyware directly. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., is sponsoring a bill that would give the FTC that authority and require spyware companies to get approval from computer users before spyware programs are installed.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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