US Congress Takes on Spyware, Phishing

The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this week for two bills that seek massive fines and prison sentences for individuals who distribute spyware to computer users. The House passed one bill by a vote of 395 to 1 and other by 393 to 4. The bills now move to the Senate, which has a few antispyware bills of its own.

"I do believe before the end of the calendar year we will see federal spyware legislation," says WebRoot Software CEO David Moll. "I'm confident that with the amount of attention legislators are paying to it, we're going to see something make it through."

The bills--the Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act of 2005 and the SPY Act--would introduce multimillion-dollar fines and prison sentences as possible punishment for those convicted of spreading spyware. The I-SPY Prevention Act would make it illegal to access users' PCs via spyware without permission. The SPY Act requires companies to seek  users' permission before installing software on their PC systems.

The bills also address so-called phishing attacks, in which a malicious Web site is disguised to look like a legitimate e-commerce site in a bid to steal sensitive information, such as credit card and social security numbers, from users. Financial institutions and companies such as eBay are often the target of phishing attacks because their users so often have to type in credit card information.

According to some sources, spyware is installed on as many as 90 percent of all PCs. And Microsoft says that spyware is responsible for as much as one-third of all Windows crashes and reboots.

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