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Web bugs thrive like cockroaches

Up 488 per cent over the last three years and they're even on The Reg

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Seven Steps to Software Security

Updated Use of Web bugs, or online hidden information collectors, has increased 488 per cent in the past three years, according to a survey of corporate Internet sites published today.

A study of a random sample of more than one million Internet pages gathered between 1998 and 2001, using Internet intelligence technology from Cyveillance, revealed that eight of the top 50 brands had Web bugs on their home pages. These were often just one click away from stated privacy policies, which frowned on the technique.

Web bugs, objects such as frames or images, are imbedded on a Web site and cause part of the Web page to be retrieved from a different site. In the process, this second web site gets to know who visited the original site.

These web bugs can be used to verify email addresses and collect IPs of users, although a while back we ran an article where Register readers, you devious lot, suggested far more nefarious uses for Web bugs. That said, for the most part Web bugs are judged to be fairly benign.

Cyveillance tried to spin the results of the survey to suggest Web bugs may undermine building a good reputation for a brand but we reckon the more interesting point to note from the survey is how widely used Web bugs are. ®

Updated

Time to declare an interest. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time of writing this story, El Reg's home page carries a Web bug from Vibrant Media. Readers spotted this using a tool called Bugnosis.
Our privacy policy says that we're not responsible "for the privacy policies of linked Web sites, advertisers or advertisement serving companies". I hope this clarifies the situation.
Irony, we've heard of it.

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