, The Associated Press 2005-02-14
Unwanted programs that spy on PC users, deliver pop-up ads and track Web surfing habits will be a hot topic at a security conference that's usually more focused on viruses, hackers and the encryption of sensitive information.So-called spyware and adware have been around for years but have largely been viewed as more of an annoyance than a security threat. Such programs are often installed on PCs when users agree to a license for free software without reading it, though later versions take advantage of flaws in Web browsers and operating systems.
Recently the problem has developed into a major headache not only for home users whose PCs choke on a flurry of pop-up windows but also corporate computer users who run the risk of lost productivity and pilfered data from such programs.
Spyware and adware "have gone past the point of annoying to really becoming cost centers for corporations," said Jayshree Ullal, senior vice president of Cisco Systems Inc.'s security technology group. "They are where viruses used to be five to 10 years ago."
More than 11,000 people were expected at the RSA Conference in San Francisco this week. Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates was to deliver the opening speech on Tuesday. Other speakers include Symantec Corp. Chief Executive John Thompson and Cisco CEO John Chambers.
Gates, who is now Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, was expected to shed light on the company's plans to protect its customers from spyware. Microsoft released its own anti-spyware offering earlier this year.
Microsoft also was expected to announce moves in protecting computers from viruses following its recent acquisition of two antivirus companies, though it's not clear whether such announcements would come at the conference. The company repeatedly declined to comment before the speech.
Cisco was to show off the latest phase of its strategy to protect corporate networks from attacks. The network equipment maker is announcing 10 new products, services and software enhancements to give corporate network administrators more protection.
The strategy doesn't attempt to fix only desktops but secure the entire network, Ullal said. And it focuses on all unwanted programs _ from worms and viruses to spyware and adware.
"Our view of security is that it's too important to do in isolation," she said. "Increasingly, we're integrating it more and more with our infrastructure routers and Internet switches as well."
Security software companies also are increasingly adding spyware and adware to their lists of programs to find and remove. They are integrating features of programs that have been sold separately by companies focusing on spyware and adware removal.
Symantec, for instance, unveiled a new version of its corporate computer security software that promises such "comprehensive" protection. The updated programs are expected to be available next month.
"Customers are looking for spyware and adware protection from their antivirus vendor, a partner they trust," said Brian Foster, Symantec's senior director of product management for client and host security.
McAfee Inc., another antivirus company, also is putting a greater focus on spyware and adware with its McAfee Anti-Spyware Enterprise for corporations. It will be available March 2.
"It's only been the past year or year-and-a-half now, where spyware and adware specifically have taken a hold in the Internet culture and become a great problem," said Vincent Gullotto, vice president of McAfee's Antivirus and Vulnerability Emergency Response Team.
McAfee also is announcing that it will send out updates of its virus definitions on a daily, rather than weekly basis. The new program starts Feb. 24 for its corporate clients. The more frequent updates will be available for its retail software in about three months, Gullotto said.