House approves bills to crack down on spyware

The U.S. House of Representatives in October approved a pair of bills that aim to crack down on spyware.

The Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY ACT) would ban deceptive downloading of software that tracks a user's activity. It also requires clear notice prior to downloading of such programs, with exceptions for security operations or repairs. The bill would give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement authority and establish civil penalties of up to $3 million.

The second bill, the Internet Spyware Prevention Act (I-SPY), would make it a crime to use spyware while committing a federal offense and increase an offender's jail time. The bill contains specific clauses relating to the passing on of personal data. It would also appropriate $10 million annually for the next four years to the Attorney General for prosecutions that discourage spyware and phishing.

A recent survey conducted by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance highlighted the public misconception of spyware, with 91 percent of those surveyed aware of spyware, but only 53 percent believing they actually had any on their machines. When they had their computers scanned, it was found that 80 percent had some form of spyware on their machines.

The survey went on to demonstrate that the average number of spyware components found on each computer totalled 93.

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