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Corporate systems are riddled with spyware, according to a study by an anti-spyware firm. Companies voluntarily using Webroot's Corporate SpyAudit tool had an average of 20 nasties per PC, Webroot reports.

Most of the items found were harmless cookies. But average five per cent of the PCs scanned had system monitors and 5.5 per cent had Trojan horse programs, the two most nefarious and potentially malicious forms of spyware. The audit - based on scans of more than 10,000 systems, used by more than 4,100 companies - is touted by Webroot as the first comprehensive analysis of the presence of spyware within corporate networks.

Webroot has been looking at spyware incidents on consumer PCs for some time, finding an average 26 nasties per PC. So corporate PCs are little cleaner than those used by consumers. Webroot hopes its latest survey will shake the notion that corporate systems are protected from spyware attacks by current anti-virus and firewall systems. Selling more of its anti-spyware software into its target enterprise market will be the happy outcome of such a realisation, Webroot hopes.

"The enterprise offers a bounty exponentially larger than what the everyday consumer's PC might surrender to a spyware program," said Richard Stiennon, Webroot’s vice president of threat research. "Everything from customer information to payroll details to product specs and source code are all potential spyware targets. And beyond the potential theft of sensitive information, more benign forms of spyware, like adware, lead to increased bandwidth consumption and decreased employee productivity."

Spyware applications secretly forward information about a user's online activities to third parties without a user's knowledge or permission. Typically, spyware arrives bundled with freeware or shareware games or P2P applications or through email.

According to a study by analyst IDC published yesterday, the need to identify and eradicate these parasitic programmes will drive anti-spyware software revenues from $12m in 2003 to $305m in 2008. IDC reckons two in three PCs are infected with some form of spyware. ®

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