Spyware used to be thought of as a consumer problem. Now it has IT's full attention, and it's no wonder: In an IDG survey of subscribers with IT security responsibilities that was conducted for this story, 79 per cent of the 577 respondents said they have had problems with spyware in the past 12 months, and 71 per cent said they saw it as a threat to their organisations. While spyware's major impact has been on the help desk because of spyware-related system reliability and performance issues, the unwanted programs are also viewed as a growing security threat - one that 84 per cent of respondents said was increasing.
The good news is that IT organisations are finally starting to get the kinds of tools that are needed to bring the problem under control. The evolution of centrally managed, enterprise-class antispyware tools for the desktop and the emergence of spyware-savvy gateways for the network perimeter are helping IT organisations identify and eliminate spyware programs and block new ones from infecting business PCs. Although the tools are new and still maturing, 41 per cent of our survey respondents said they were already using enterprise-ready antispyware software.
At TelCove, the use of enterprise antispyware software had cut help desk call volumes by about 30 per cent, Windows server administrator, Anthony Waters, said. The help desk at the telecommunications company fields calls from 1500 users in 72 offices. As spyware-related calls to the help desk skyrocketed late last year, the task of cleaning PCs with standalone antispyware tools and reimaging badly infected machines became overwhelming.
Last December, he added McAfee's AntiSpyware Enterprise to his antivirus software and deployed it to the desktops using McAfee's Policy Orchestrator software. Early on, the software didn't catch all spyware programs, and, in some cases, programs it had supposedly removed came back.
"But as we got different [updates], that part has improved," Waters said.
Recently, he also upgraded all PCs to Windows XP with Service Pack 2, a move that helped eliminate several Windows and Internet Explorer vulnerabilities that spyware programs were known to exploit. Now, Waters claims spyware-related help desk calls have almost been eliminated.