Spyware has become well-engrained in the day-to-day vocabulary of many computer users. The number of attacks is rapidly increasing, with an estimated 31.7 per cent of all PCs in the UK currently infected with some form of spyware. Worse still, it is said that a brand-new PC will fall victim to spyware after just 30 minutes of internet connection.

It is important to understand the difference between spyware and avirus. “Spyware is about harvesting information: log-in passwords,account information, your surfing and shopping habits,” said DanielMothersdale, Webroot’s marketing director, EMEA (pictured). “It is atype of system monitor, grabbing your details, using them and thenselling them on.”

Spyware comes in many different formats, some obviously more complex andthreatening than others. There are cookies and adware at one end of thespectrum, Trojans on the next level, and rootkits at the upper end.

“Rootkits have become increasingly prominent over the past six to ninemonths. There are some very clever ones that go onto your PC and liedormant. Two or three weeks later they will bring in another file, whichwill also sit inactive. Then they go and get a third file and, when thethree files are there, they will activate each other and release thespyware on to your PC,” explained Mothersdale. “Getting rid of thesefiles poses a particular challenge. We’ve known some files that simplymultiply the more you try to break them up.”

In EMEA, 80 per cent of PCs host at least one of the above types ofspyware. But where does it all come from? According to Mothersdale, asimple typing error, such as “www.googkle.com”, can lead to aninfestation. “When you go to that site, it looks and works like Google,but when you start using it, you get a ton of spyware coming onto yourPC immediately. USB sticks and CDs are other great ways of transferringthese system monitors.”

Over the course of 2006, worldwide sites propagating spyware havequadrupled to around 523,000. System monitors are increasing by 50 percent quarter on quarter and are becoming more complex.

“The people in charge of these attacks have no shame. They’ll attackanyone to make a bit of money. The average piece of information, such ascredit card details, passes through five hands in less than 72 hours. Itstarts at £10 and ends up costing less than 50p,” warned KevinRoberts, managing director, EMEA, at Webroot.

“The impact of these attacks can be destroying. If you attackBarclaycard, they lose their reputation. But if you attack a smallcompany, chances are it will have no business left the followingmorning,” he added.

Protecting yourself against these viruses isn’t easy. Detecting thespyware is the first hurdle, as they are not made for easy discovery. Itis then necessary to block the item and fully remove it from the root ofyour PC to ensure it does not return when you restart your machine. Notall anti-spyware products do these three things, and Mothersdalerecommends investing in a best-of-breed brand.

“There are several ways to protect yourself against spyware,” he says.”First, make sure your firewall is turned on. Next, buy an anti-virusand an anti-spyware product – one that detects, blocks and removes theproblem – and again, have it switched on. Then ensure you keep theseprograms regularly updated. “Finally, be paranoid. This way you won’t beleaving yourself open for attack. It’s one of the best forms ofpreparation there is,” he said.

Contact details: tel 0845 838 1130; www.webroot.com/uk.