Deceptive software, also known as spyware, now accounts for more than 50 percent of the Windows failures reported to Microsoft and is becoming an important industry concern. Microsoft's partners report that spyware is the number-one support problem and is costing the industry millions of dollars a year in support costs.
Earlier this week, Microsoft and other companies detailed to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the steps they're taking to reduce the threat and problems spyware causes. The FTC, which has received many complaints about spyware, is working on a policy for combatting deceptive software. At the FTC Spyware Workshop held Monday in Washington, D.C., Microsoft presented its antispyware efforts, which include consumer education, technology, and the publication of industry best practices. The company is hoping to avoid what it calls first-response legislation, which it believes won't do a good enough job to thwart the distribution of deceptive software.
The use of spyware has increased recently because the programs are being bundled with popular shareware software or are downloaded with unsolicited junk email. Most spyware is just a nuisance for users; it can change a computer's home page and generate random pop-up ads. But some versions of spyware perform dangerous operations, such as dialing toll numbers and using other illegal methods to capture user information.
Microsoft's new antispyware tools include features in the upcoming Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and offerings from MSN. The new SP2 features include a pop-up ad blocker for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), a new IE toolbar that will suppress unsolicited software downloads, a redesigned download experience that will make software identification easier, and improved security tools for viewing and controlling browser add-on programs. "These enhancements help put you in control," Jeffrey Friedberg, director of Microsoft's Windows Privacy Group, said. The company's MSN Premium service includes McAfee Security's Virus Guard, which detects and removes deceptive software.
Microsoft also recently launched a Web site that provides information about how to avoid and remove deceptive software. The site lists the following five tips you can take to avoid spyware:
- choose an appropriate Web browser security setting
- don't accept downloads from strangers
- look for signs of deceptive software on your computer
- detect and remove unwanted software
- keep Windows up-to-date