A recent report by independent US market research company Radicati, titled: "Corporate Anti-Spyware Market 2005-2009", predicts that the number of corporate users with anti-spyware tools will grow from 16 million users in 2005 to 540 million in 2009. An increase that will be invariably reflected here in Australia.
The surge in popularity of spyware has drawn debate about the actual definition of the term. Advertising companies have been threatened with litigation when anti-spyware applications detect and report their products, arguing that they are legitimate adware, not unwanted spyware.
Are the advertising companies right? Do people want adware? It all comes down to the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) -- you know, where you automatically click "accept" while installing a new application without a second thought of what it says. These legitimate adware marketing enterprises suggest that if you do not wish to have your browsing habits tracked, or receive browser pop-up notices etc, then you should read the EULA carefully before installing an application to ensure that there are no clauses that allow this kind of activity. The theory being, if a user accepts and acknowledges that they are willing to have their details/habits/information used, then the application doing so should not be classed as spyware, it is adware -- undoubtedly a tenuous assertion.
Whichever way you slice it, spyware and adware still fall into an application category where information is collected and reported back to base.
It ranges from the relatively harmless advertising/marketing information gathered about computer users' Internet browsing habits, through to the much more malicious examples where information such as banking details, credit card details, usernames, passwords, or even personal details are gathered.
The results of the use, or misuse, of information gathered by these methods can be as innocuous as browser popup advertisements, through to full-scale identity theft, credit card fraud, or stolen banking usernames and passwords.
Technically some spyware may be desirable in an enterprise environment. Several vendors have produced some capable commercial key-logging applications that enable management to monitor employees' behaviour and ensure that the acceptable usage policies are being upheld by staff members.
In our experience some vendors' anti-spyware solutions pick up these commercial key-loggers and others don't. If a hacker does their homework and discovers an organisation that uses an anti-spyware application that does not pick up certain key-loggers, all the hacker needs to do is purchase a commercial key-logger and install it on the target's PC.