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Spyware purveyors are expanding their distribution channels and adopting new tactics in a bid to cash-in by infesting more PCs with parasitic malware. The majority of spyware is coming from the US, with Poland coming in second and the Netherlands third, according to a study by anti-spyware software developer, Webroot Software.

Legislation against spyware is now pending in 19 states and four bills affecting spyware are pending at the federal level. Technology countermeasures are also becoming more common but Webroot's report argues that spyware developers are fighting back in a bid to preserve their business.

Webroot's State of Spyware report states that spyware is becoming more sophisticated (the use of packing and encryption techniques are becoming more common, for example) in a bid to elude detection and removal efforts. The number of websites distributing spyware has quadrupled since the beginning of 2005 to 300,000 unique URLs as spyware purveyors grow their distribution channels and enter new markets. Meanwhile the number of spyware traces in Webroot's spyware definition database has doubled to over 100,000 since the start of the year.

"Unlike virus writers who are motivated by personal pride or a desire for notoriety, spyware purveyors are motivated by profit – whether it’s a penny per pop-up or a keylogger that captures valuable account information," said C. David Moll, chief exec of Webroot Software. "Our research shows that like any business, spyware developers are committed to increasing their profit margins by expanding their distribution channels, utilising new products and entering new markets."

Four in five (80 per cent) of consumer and corporate PCs are infected with spyware, according to Webroot. Consumer PCs have an average of 25.4 instances of spyware per scan but since Webroot includes relatively benign cookies as well as Trojans in this same category these figures ought to be approached with some caution. The raw data behind the latest edition of Webroot's quarterly report comes largely from its consumer and corporate SpyAudit scanning tools and from online research culled by Phileas, Webroot’s automated spyware research system. This data allows Webroot to compile a list of the ten most significant spyware and adware threats. Once again the infamous CoolWebSearch malware tops this rogues gallery. ®

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