TECHNOLOGY SPECIAL REPORT

New Efforts Being Taken Against Spyware

In today’s world of warnings, dangers and the need for safety precautions, even surfing the Internet for business or pleasure is fraught with hazards. Despite the growing epidemic of spyware infections, many computer users remain unfazed by the call to arms in the fight for safer computing practices.

A recent report from Earthlink and Webroot found that one out of three PCs could contain spyware that can secretly record and capture personal information. The same survey found more than 500,000 copies of Trojan horses and surveillance software on users’ hard drives.

“Malware has quickly become the fastest growing segment of spyware,” MX Logic CTO Scott Chasin, told TechNewsWorld. “We are seeing a significant increase in open source malware,” he said.

Chasin said more than 1,000 new variants of malware are released each month, most of which are Trojan horses. These Trojan horses can infect computers that visit compromised Web sites and create drone armies.

“Those armies can grow in size to include hundreds of thousands of infected drones capable of spewing out spam, launching a DDoS [distributed denial of service] or other threat,” Chasin said.

The Proxyconn Solution

Individual computer users are no longer left on their own to fight against spyware intrusions. The computing industry is starting to join forces in an effort to galvanize defenses against spyware.

Proxyconn this month released a reinforced version of its leading dial-up accelerator that works with phone line and broadband connections. It adds spyware protection and parental controls to the existing banner ads and popup blocking features as well as privacy protection.

Spyware programs are not only intrusive but also can slow down Internet connection speeds. The Proxyconn Accelerator automatically blocks any spyware attempt to operate on the local machine, including attempts to connect to the Internet. Its integrated parental control feature extends the site blocking and site filtering capabilities from parents to school administrators and corporations.

Proxyconn’s client software package succeeds in packing all these core features into just 1 MB. This means that Internet service providers (ISPs) can offer premium services to consumers without requiring large software downloads or installations.

“Spyware often slows down users, for which ISPs are blamed. Our system helps ISPs satisfy end-users with better services and faster speeds,” Proxyconn CEO Uzi Yair said. “Twenty percent of spyware makes 90 percent of the problem. We clean out all the clutter,” he said.

Warnings Aimed at Faulty Protection

The industry is starting to catch up to the spyware threat, according to Joshua Blanchfield, CEO of Tenebril, maker of the revamped SpyChaser 3.0. Since finding and ridding spyware from computers now requires highly specialized solutions, his company has rebuilt the latest version of SpyChaser to meet these new threats head on.

“We are starting to see on the Web lots of antispyware products that do nothing,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Some so-called spyware eradication programs actually install their own brand of tracking code that produce targeted mailing lists for spam, according to some industry watchers.

“There is a trend developing in which spyware companies themselves are actually coming out with antispyware programs,” Blanchfield said.

Take, for example, a recent report in the Spyware Weekly newsletter that said the Radlight mediaplayer contains code that seeks out and removes existing spyware removal software on the user’s system.

Push for More Protection

MX Logic’s Chasin said consumers aren’t fighting the spyware battle alone. Software companies are arming ISPs with effective tools.

For instance, MX Logic’s E-Mail Defense Service allows customers to track URL click-throughs that originate from embedded email links. With this data, enterprises can see if end users are clicking on Web sites that would have negative consequences, such as adding the end user to spammer distribution lists, installing spyware on the end user’s computer or exposing the corporate network to hackers and other threats, Chasin said.

To protect end users and the corporate network from these negative consequences, MX Logic customers can choose to enable and disable URL click-throughs from e-mail. MX Logic customers can also enable a displayed warning message before allowing or denying the click.

Antispyware efforts aren’t limited to e-mail defense providers and antivirus companies, Chasin said. ISPs and PC makers also are taking steps to combat spyware.

Most major ISPs offer consumers antispyware tools. For example, AOL, MSN and Earthlink all provide their consumers with a way to protect themselves from pop-ups and other types of spyware.

Two-Pronged Defense

Dennis McCabe, WaveCrest Computing’s vice president of business development, said new software tools make it easier for IT departments to manage spyware attacks in the enterprise environment. WaveCrest’s Web-use management software products Cyfin (which monitors Internet use) and CyBlock (which filters out dangerous URLs) help control spyware in two important ways.

First, an outbound filtering product allows organizations to prevent employees from accessing high-risk Web sites like those with free games or screensavers. Second, a reporting tool allows managers to spot spyware activity on their networks.

For example, a high volume of outbound Web traffic from a worker’s computer to a single IP address is usually an indicator of spyware, McCabe said. “Monitoring software is the only way to detect that kind of spike in outbound traffic and identify the source so the problem can be resolved quickly,” he said.

Consolidation Coming

Chasin said he sees a shift in product purposes taking place. Much like the spam war, there is a constant tug-of-war between antispyware technology and the ever evolving tactics of spyware makers. Once a tool is developed to combat spyware, hackers make efforts to circumvent it. So protection strategies are shifting to meet the challenge of hacker reengineering of antispyware programs.

In terms of the enterprise market, MS Logic’s Chasin sees antivirus and antispyware products coming together.

“The trend that I see is a merger of efforts: antivirus, antispam, antispyware and antiphishing tools being bundled and sold as a comprehensive security package. Companies want to have one solutions provider who can deliver robust protection from all these threats,” he told TechNewsWorld.

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