A new study details the extent and seriousness of potentially destructive spyware on the Internet, finding that it is still prevalent but declined significantly. University of Washington computer scientists sampled more than 20 million Internet sites looking for programs that can covertly enter computers.
While most spyware can be a nuisance—generating pop-ups, loading unwanted programs—it can also perform such malicious tasks as gathering personal data or using your modem to dial costly toll numbers.
The study examined popular categories of Web sites including games, news and celebrity sites. Among the findings: More 5 percent of executable files contain piggybacked spyware; One in 62 Internet domains performs “drive-by download attacks” to force spyware on users who simply visit the site; Game and celebrity Web sites appeared to pose the greatest risk for piggybacked spyware, while sites that offer pirated software topped the list for drive-by attacks.