Reports of spyware’s life have been greatly exaggerated, according to anti-virus expert Eugene Kaspersky.
Kaspersky, head of his self-titled company, claimed spyware has been around for years, and recent scare stories are simply the result of marketing men profiteering.
"The term spyware is basically a marketing gimmick," said Kaspersky on the company weblog. "Just to separate new ersatz-security products from traditional ones, just to push almost zero-value products to the security market."
According to Kaspersky programs now called spyware, in one form or another, has been around for years.
"The first malicious software designed to spy and steal confidential information was detected back in 1996 – the AOL password stealing trojans," he said. "Have we already seen other malicious programs which can be described as spyware? Certainly!"
Some industry watchers take a slightly different view.
"Spyware has always been there, but under different guises," said Clive Longbottom, head of research at analysts Quocirca. "Some of the bigger players took a long time to realise it was a threat and are only now playing catch-up. To their credit though, it's mostly as a free add-on."
But Longbottom agreed that some companies were spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt to make money.
"The word spyware is a powerful tool for marketing men," he said. "There are companies out there specialising in spyware, but their presence is just a spike. The big players will soon get a real handle on this with embedded solutions."
One industry expert took a dim view on the idea that spyware does not exist.
"Gravity was there before Newton," he said. "It just didn't have a name."
In January SC reported Senator Conrad Burns was re-introducing his anti-spyware bill entitled The Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge (Spyblock) Act. The act makes the covert sending of spyware programs illegal.