Sharp increase in spyware Web sites

US, Poland and Holland are blamed for a massive jump in spyware infections this year

A report issued on Wednesday warned the number of spyware Web sites detected has quadrupled since the start of 2005 to over 300,000.

The State of Spyware report, issued by anti-spyware provider Webroot, comes after spyware incidents this year at Mastercard International, Time Warner, Lexis-Nexis, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The report has found that the number of corporate spyware incidents has dramatically increased, as has the sophistication with which spyware infiltrates a machine and eludes detection. Webroot has also seen the number of entries in its spyware definition database double so far this year to over 100,000.

According to Webroot, the majority of spyware comes from the US, with Poland and Holland in second and third places respectively. Daniel Mothersdale, marketing director for Webroot, said this was primarily because of legislative loopholes in these countries. He called for tighter government controls globally, and especially in Europe.

Webroot is in discussions with the British government about the issue of spyware. "It's important for spyware to be recognised as a governmental issue that needs to be solved. Every government needs to recognise this and work with experts," said Mothersdale.

In the second quarter of 2005, Webroot's Enterprise SpyAudit application found at least one form of 'unwanted program' in 80 percent of PCs it scanned. The amount of malicious spyware on infected enterprise PCs rose by 19 percent over the last quarter, while the number of spyware instances rose to a high of 25.4 instances per machine from 22.8 instances in the first quarter of 2005.

The findings underline the growing threat facing businesses. Mothersdale advised businesses not to ignore issues of security, and encouraged a holistic view. "Spyware is just one element of security that needs to be addressed. You need your firewall, you need antivirus protection at the server," he said.

Mothersdale warned that mobile workers need to be vigilant against other people using their laptops at home and downloading spyware onto the machine. "Security issues need to be recognised both in and outside of work."