Spyware infection rates have risen to the highest levels since 2004 when the Internet security scourge was at its supposed peak, according to latest State of Spyware report issued today by Webroot Software, the leading anti-spyware developer.
During the second quarter of 2006, Webroot researchers found that 89 percent of consumer PCs were infected with an average of 30 pieces of spyware – a slight increase from the first quarter of 2006 when infection rates returned to alarmingly high levels after a supposed lull in spyware infections during the second half of 2005. According to the report, new distribution channels, advanced spyware technologies and a reliance on free anti-spyware programs are all contributing factors to the startling increase.
In the report, Webroot details how spyware purveyors are capitalizing on the popularity of social networking sites like MySpace to reach new victims while spammers have recognized the extra profitability offered by adding spyware programs to their email scams. Spyware criminals are also flooding the Internet with an increased number of malicious spyware websites in hopes of garnering new victims. Using Phileas V, the next generation of Webroot's automated spyware research system, Webroot to date has identified 527,136 malicious websites. This number marks a substantial increase during the last quarter as the number of identified websites at the close of the first quarter of 2006 was 427,000.
At the same time, spyware criminals continue to rely on the most advanced spyware technologies to reel in new victims. With many PC users still relying on free anti-spyware programs, spyware purveyors are able to easily avoid detection using advanced spyware programs like rootkits, Trojan downloaders, keyloggers and driver-level installers. During the last quarter alone, Webroot saw the infection rate of Trojans among consumer PCs rise to 31 percent up from 29 percent during the first quarter of 2006 and 24 percent during the last quarter of 2005. Additionally, Webroot found more than 1 million traces of the most prevalent Trojan, Trojan – Downloader – Zlob during the second quarter.
"Less than a year ago, many so-called Internet security experts began claiming that spyware was on the decline and that infection rates would soon drop to the point of extinction. While the infection rates at that time seemingly supported this theory, the data we have culled during the past six months unequivocally show that spyware is anything but extinct," said C. David Moll, CEO of Webroot Software. "Spyware is a financially motivated threat and as long as there is a dollar to be had, cyber criminals will do everything possible to steal it. It is imperative that PC users deploy a proven anti-spyware solution that offers proactive protection against the most advanced spyware technologies."
Enterprises were not immune from spyware attacks either as evidenced by the more than 40 security breaches reported by enterprises during the last quarter. With industry experts estimating that 70 percent of corporations use an anti-spyware solution, the steady infection rates among enterprises suggest that these deployed anti-spyware solutions may be inadequate. Additionally, Webroot found that infections rates for the most damaging types of spyware – system monitors and trojans – remained steady during the last two quarters.
Webroot also found that spyware is reaching the farthest parts of the world and across each continent. During the second quarter of 2006, Puerto Rico had the highest number of spies detected: 42.6 per scanned PC. Algeria and Bahrain also had high infection rates with 38.4 per scanned PC and 35.7, respectively. For the most malicious threats, the Dominican Republic had the highest infection rates for Trojans at 1,099 per 1,000 PCs scanned and Yemen had the highest rate of system monitors with 426 per 1,000 PCs scanned.
The State of Spyware report is issued quarterly as an in-depth review and analysis of the impact of spyware, adware and unwanted software on consumers and enterprises. The foundation for much of the analysis and trends reporting comes from Webroot's consumer and corporate SpyAudit tools and from online research culled by Phileas, Webroot's automated spyware research system. The SpyAudit tools invite both consumers and enterprises to scan specific PCs and determine spyware infection levels.