. Adware"> H.R. 4661, the Internet Spyware Prevention Act of 2004 (I-SPY), has gone a long way toward drawing the distinction between spyware and adware, but despite Congress efforts, Stiennon called spyware a "huge growth industry" because illegitimate firms are often outside of U.S. lawmakers grasp. "The sheer amount of money theyre making is fueling its growth," he said. Webroot now tracks roughly 80 new variations of existing spyware, and 20 new identifiable pieces of spyware each week. Some of the most vicious programs not only track user behavior but also collect credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other personal information. Its been estimated that CoolWebSearch, one of the most prolific spyware programs in the world, has 300 to 400 variants alone. How are anti-spyware companies tackling these developments?The vendors first must infect a system with the spyware, determine its causes and identify it. Then, they write definitions that will in some cases detect when a program tries to install itself on a users PC, or determine if a program already resides there and remove it. Those definitions typically are pushed to users who, like anti-virus customers, pay a subscription to receive updates. "Eighty to 90 percent of computers have some form of spyware on them, and the software vendors are in a constant battle to keep up with spyware guys," said Rich Mogull, research director at analyst firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn. "Next-generation solutions will have more active blocking, rather than just detecting and cleaning." Mogull also said he expects anti-virus vendors to start taking the threat more seriously as well and develop solutions as part of their services. Anti-virus firm McAfee Inc., for instance, offers McAfee AntiSpyware software as a separate product. In the enterprise market, Mogull tells clients to block the spyware at the proxy server, before it ever reaches employee desktops. Web proxy vendors such as Blue Coat Systems Inc. and Websense Inc. offer these solutions. Meanwhile, Microsoft Corp. took a step in protecting users with Windows XP SP2, which the company says will thwart some of the methods used to install software on consumers machines without their consent, mainly through Internet Explorer pop-up blockers and Windows download blockers. Bill Gates says Microsoft has big plans for tackling spyware. Click here to read more. But not even the entrance and commitment of the worlds largest software maker will completely eradicate spyware. "This will never be perfect," Gartners Mogull said. "People will always be stupid enough to click on these things to install them." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
"Basically, theyre throwing programmers at the problem," said SpywareInfo.coms Heanan, who gives anti-spyware companies access to the spyware he discovers.