PCs Monitored, E-mail Bugged

  |  April 20, 2004   |  Comments

Research reveals an average of 28 pieces of spyware per computer,and half of spam filled with activity-tracking beacons.

The average computer houses roughly 28 items of monitoring software, unbeknownst to the user, according to Internet service provider Earthlink and Webroot Software. The study was released just in time for the FTC's Spyware [define] Workshop on April 19 in Washington, DC.

The findings come from a collaborative SpyAudit report that analyzed Scans of PCs during the first quarter of 2004, revealing more than 29.5 million instances of spyware. While the majority of infiltrations are benign forms of adware, there are roughly 185,000 cases each of system monitors and Trojan horses [define].

SpyAudit, Jan. 1 to Mar. 31, 2004
Total Number of SpyAudit Scans: 1,062,756
Total Instances of Spyware Found: 29,540,618
Instances of Spyware per Scanned PC: 27.8
Adware Installations on Scanned PCs: 5,344,355
Adware Cookie Installations on Scanned PCs: 23,826,785
System Monitor Installations on Scanned PCs: 184,559
Trojan Installations on Scanned PCs: 184,919
Source: Earthlink and Webroot Software

The spyware issue has been getting attention both on the federal and state levels, where legislators are considering legislation that would restrict the invasive practices. But some Internet companies believe the statutes are too restrictive. Adware company WhenU filed suit against Utah, claiming that the state's anti-spyware statute is unconstitutional.

Internet users are also under siege from "Web beacons" [define]. Traditionally used by legitimate Web marketers, these email tags are now being heavily adopted by spammers. According to email defense Solutions company MX Logic, Inc., nearly half of unwanted messages contain these beacons, which spammers use to validate email addresses and detect activity.

MX Logic analyzed that email messages that were identified as spam by its filters and by customer quarantines from the prior 12 month period, resulting in a sample size of nearly one billion emails. Through this process, the company determined which bugged messages were considered spam.

Typically, Web beacons, or "bugs," are quite common in email since e-marketers rely on them to provide results of email campaigns. "We see Web beacons in a fair amount of messages. There are legitimate reasons for Web beacons, such as tracking activity, measuring click-through rates, inserting cookies for personalization," says Scott Petry, founder and vice president of products and engineering for Postini, an email security company.

Significant portions of bulk mail messages may contain a beacon, but not all of it is unwanted or non-opt-in. Petry explains that all mass mailers -- legitimate or otherwise -- use Web beacons to report metrics and results to customers.

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