Spyware hits one-third of European businesses

Companies believe they are are vulnerable to hacking and virus threats from peer-to-peer downloads and instant messaging according to a European survey

Almost one-third of European companies have been infected with spyware applications on their networks, potentially opening their confidential information to competitors, hackers or advertisers, according to research by Internet security firm Websense.

Spyware is the term for software that is used to collect information about an individual or organisation without their knowledge. It can be deposited as an email attachment or as aWeb site download.

According to the Emerging Internet Threats Survey 2003, which was conducted among 408 IT professionals in 20 countries, there is growing anxiety over other threats, including P2P file-sharing, instant messaging and malicious mobile code (MMC).

Websense reports that 70 percent of those surveyed believe P2P creates an "open door" to hackers; 62 percent believe that instant messaging can expose their companies to viruses; whilst 62 percent are worried that MMC may spread across their networks as a result of employees searching the Internet via infected URLs.

Personal Web surfing was, the company claims, the most frequently cited security concern of the sample, followed by software downloads (24 percent), and Web-based email (24 percent).

Despite of the growing awareness of the potential damage that can be caused by these threats, less than half of the businesses surveyed have Internet policies in place that include guidelines for emerging threats, says Websense.

For more information on Internet policies and access to a free policy that you can download and use in your organisation, see the Masons guide, Internet and email policies.

For all security-related news, including updates on the latest viruses, hacking exploits and patches, check out ZDNet UK's Security News Section.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.