Spyware menace costing businesses millions!

From a minor annoyance for home PC users to a major plight on enterprise environments around the world, spyware (also known as adware, malware, scumware, and a host of other sordid names) is infecting millions of computers with multiple purposes: stealing personal information, enabling identity theft, tracking users’ online activity, and selling the information back to anyone willing to pay. According to new research from IDC, the need to identify and eradicate these parasitic programs will drive the spending by enterprises upwards from $12 million in 2003 to $305 million in 2008.

Although not always malicious in nature, spyware still causes significant damage to legitimate software, network performance, and employee productivity. Moreover, it crosses the boundary between security and system management by deluging help desks with a siege of employee complaints about pop-up advertisements, applications failures, and poor PC performance.

At worst, spyware’s ability to track keystrokes, scan hard drives, and change system and registry settings is a tremendous personal and enterprise security threat. These activities can lead to identity theft, data corruption, and even theft of company trade secrets.

“Today, more malicious spyware can easily infiltrate corporate firewalls,” said Brian Burke, research manager, Security Products at IDC. “These programs make their way into the corporate intranet under the guise of less-threatening network traffic and, once in, they can wreak havoc.”

Key findings from IDC’s study of the spyware market include the following:

• Spyware is often bundled with legitimate programs, allowing it to easily pass through firewalls uncontested
• A recent IDC survey of over 600 organisations listed spyware as the fourth-greatest threat to a company’s enterprise network security
• IDC estimates that 67 per cent of all computers (mostly consumer) have some form of spyware
• Rising spyware threats and increasing demand for protection have forced established security vendors to build, buy, or partner with standalone anti-spyware vendors

In the comprehensive study, Worldwide Spyware 2004-2008 Forecast and Analysis: Security and System Management Sharing Nightmares (IDC #32229), IDC defines the spyware security threat and its repercussions as well as forecasts the potential market. It examines the key players in the market and provides insight and analysis on products and solutions poised to have an impact.