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One in three European companies are harbouring spyware apps on their networks, a new study claims.

Spyware applications, programs which surreptitiously send information from surfers' PCs to marketing outfits, are becoming a bigger problem, according to the Emerging Internet Threats Survey 2003.

Spyware on company systems leaves companies vulnerable to unknown outside parties such as competitors, crackers or spammers, who can gather confidential company information without consent, the survey warns.

The survey, which includes input from 408 IT professionals across Europe, was conducted by employee Internet management specialist Websense, and trade show Infosecurity Europe 2003 to identify which Internet-related security threats are posing the most problems for IT staff.

Ninety four percent of IT departments quizzed admitted to dealing with security issues as a result of employees' use of the Internet.

Personal Web surfing (31 per cent), software downloads (24 per cent) and Web-based email (24 per cent) figured as the top three concerns for IT professionals surveyed.

The survey also highlighting growing concern such as spyware and anxiety over the security risks posed by instant messaging and malicious mobile code (MMC). The use of peer to peer (P2P) applications also created security concerns, with 70 per cent of those surveyed believing P2P apps creates an "open door" to hackers.

The Websense/Infosecurity survey found that less than half of the organisations which claim to have Internet policies in place have included any guidelines for emerging threats, such as instant messaging or P2P.

Websense has something of a bee in its bonnet about P2P apps, not shared by us, and it's worth pointing out that there several techniques for securing P2P apps. It's also worth remembering that P2P is used in some business applications (distributed computing and Internet search) came to mind, as well as file sharing networks.

Websense is, however, correct to flag up the increasing trend of bundling file-sharing apps with spyware components, such as Gator and the like. ®

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