EarthLink Says Spyware, Adware Rising

NEW YORK EarthLink said that its scan of subscriber computers in the fourth quarter found a substantial increase of installed spyware and adware programs.

The Atlanta Internet service provider said it found an average of 24 pieces of spyware on the 1.4 million computers it scanned in the fourth quarter using Webroot Software’s anti-spyware product. The programs EarthLink tabbed as spyware ranged from keystroke-logging programs to advertising-supported software.

In its scan of computers from October until the end of 2004, EarthLink found over 272,000 instances of system-monitoring software, which can be used to steal personal information, up from 155,000 in the third quarter. Trojans, which can be used to take control of computers remotely, were more prevalent, too. EarthLink found 254,000 in the fourth quarter, an increase from the 148,000 discovered during the third quarter.

Adware, which is software installed to display advertising based on users’ Internet habits, also proliferated. EarthLink found nearly 7 million pieces of adware, an increase from the 6 million identified in the previous quarter. Adware cookies rose from 22.3 million in the third quarter to 25.6 million in the fourth quarter.

The problem of spyware has drawn the attention of Congress. The House of Representatives is considering a bill that would place restrictions on the type of Internet-monitoring software that can be installed on computers without explicit user consent.