90% of all machines infested? That’s inflated and misleading – but the reality is bad enough.
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This is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at askleo.info.
In recent months and weeks we’ve seen a number of reports that claim that that some frighteningly high percentage of computers examined at random are infested with spyware of some sort. Depending on the report, numbers quoted reach as high as 90 percent.
In my opinion reports that go that high aren’t taking into account the severity of the threat, and typically include tracking cookies of some sort as “spyware”. Technically, yes, I suppose they’re spyware – but in my mind they’re an acceptable cost of doing business on the internet. Certainly they’re not in the same league as key loggers, browser hijackers, and other forms of true malware.
Reports that include cookies as spyware are doing us a disservice by overstating the problem. The average user, on hearing that number alone, may well throw up his or her hands in frustration, and believe that there’s simply nothing to be done.
That’s just wrong.
There is a spyware crisis. I hear about it every day. The number of machines infested with what I’d call “real” spyware is staggering. Even if it’s as low as 25% – and I believe it’s much higher – that’s a phenomenal number of machines that are either collecting data, forcing ads, or causing other software to misbehave or fail completely.
Aside from convincing your friends, family and colleagues to move to Linux or Mac where the threat, while still present, is currently much lower, what do we do?
To start get those friends, family and colleagues to install anti-spyware software. I happen to recommend Microsoft’s Anti-Spyware beta, but there are lots of good products out there, but really … almost anything is better than nothing at all.
Get them to avoid “shovelware” – those software packages that install not only themselves, but shovel half a dozen other utilities, often without asking permission. Avoid services that do the same – things like ISPs that insist on installing their own “accelerators” and peer-to-peer services that come laden with spyware. Make sure that they know to download only from truly reputable locations, and above all to ask someone if they’re not sure.
Yes, the spyware crisis really is bad.
It’s been said that education shouldn’t be the solution – in a working system, the users simply shouldn’t have to think that much. But today education seems to be all we have.
And you and I are the teachers.
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