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State of Spyware Q1 2005 Consumer SpyAudit Results

Overall Results. In Q4 of 2004, the Consumer SpyAudit saw a rise in the number of machines infected by spyware reach an all-time high of 92 percent, and perhaps even more alarming than the overall growth of the spyware plague was the dramatic rise in the most malicious forms of spyware – system monitors and Trojan horses. With these lofty infection rates, subsequent rates could only go down, potentially installing a false sense of security. The trends are definitely in Consumers’ favor, but the number and types of infections are staggering.
In the first quarter of this year, more than one million scans were performed using the Webroot Consumer SpyAudit tool, and the scans identified 26.2 million instances of unwanted software. The good news for Consumers is that the infection rate of spyware dropped slightly from Q4 of 2004, down 4 percent from 92 to 88 percent of computers scanned. The bad news, however, is that for those which were infected, the number of overall category instances rose for the second quarter in a row to more than 25 instances per machine. Not counting cookies, the average instance count stands at 7.2 Q1 of 2005, up slightly from 7.1 average instances for Q4 of 2004.
Adware. In the first three months of this year, 757,579 out of 1,185,032 scans indicated the presence of adware. On the average, one scan found 6.9 instances of adware. In the last quarter of 2004, 73 percent of scans identified adware compared to the 64 percent in the first quarter of 2005. While the overall presence of adware on computers is a significantly large number, Webroot believes the reduction in percentages since the beginning of 2004 is indicative of the increased awareness that spyware and adware are threats. End users have begun to seek remedies and/or are less prone to install so-called “freeware” that often comes with adware or even system monitors. Microsoft’s announcement of a free anti-spyware product contributed to the heightened awareness, as did the activity in 27 states to create anti-spyware laws while the US House and Senate re-introduced their legislation.
At the same time, the average number of pieces of adware on an infected machine held constant at 6.9 for the last two quarters. Numbers this high indicate that unprotected machines are continually burdened with additional pieces of adware. Six or seven programs running in the background all trying to serve ads, redirect browsing, or search behavior inevitably leads to system slow downs and crashes.
System Monitors. A dramatic drop in system monitors from Q4 2004 to Q1 2005 is also evident. The last month of 2004 saw a steep increase in system monitors. The Webroot Threat Research team is continuing to research the cause for that increase. In the meantime, the total percentage of machines with system monitors dropped from 19 to 7 percent. However, the average instances per scan with a system monitor present remained the same from quarter to quarter at a frequency of 1.2 instances per scan with a system monitor already present.
Trojan Horses. Although the percentage of spyware infections decreased in Q1 2005 from Q4 2004 overall, the percent of machines founds with Trojans increased almost 30 percent over the already-high Q4 2004 level. For those scans that identified Trojan horse infections, there was almost a 10 percent increase in the number of infections per scan – from 15 to 19 percent for frequency of instances by scan. This could indicate increased infection rates as Trojan horses used to recruit bots for armies for Denial of Service attacks.
Tracking Cookies. Much has been made of whether cookies really constitute spyware, and should be included in spyware counts. Interestingly enough, of those people infected with spyware, three out of every four are infected with non-cookie spyware traces. Tracking cookies overall are increasing their penetration into the Consumer market with a gradual change from 70 percent at the beginning of 2004 to 76 percent in Q1 2005. Additionally, for scans that identify cookies, the number of infections per scan has grown by 10 percent over last quarter to more than 7.2 instances.
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