Malicious programs a problem for New York Internet users

Almost a quarter of New York State Internet users encountered a badware infection on their computers over the past year, often slowing their computers and prompting them to run software to fix the problem, says a statewide survey by Consumer Reports WebWatch.

Badware – known also as spyware or malware – maliciously infects computers from a variety of sources: Infected Web sites, memory sticks, even digital picture frames. It ranges from relatively annoying – prompting unwanted advertising to pop up on your computer screen – to actively dangerous, introducing programs that can take control of your computer without your knowledge, sending your private data to a third party. It can even link your computer to worldwide organized crime networks which, in turn, use it to attack financial and government institutions.

Badware creates problems for consumers, law enforcement officials, businesses and governments, and by several measures the problem is getting worse. Detection of the number of unique keyloggers – placed on your computer by badware, then used to track everything you type on your computer without your knowledge – and crimeware-oriented malicious applications detected rose to 430 in March, an all-time record, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group. That number is about 18 percent more than the previous record month of January, 2008, when 364 unique malicious applications were detected.

That said, a big percentage of New York state residents say they take precautions against malicious programs – 83 percent say they use anti-virus software, 80 percent say they use a firewall. Only 3 percent said they used none of the listed protective measures in the survey. In addition, men were slightly more likely to use certain types of protective measures on their computer than women, and were slightly more likely to have a badware infection in the last 12 months.

Spam e-mail is one way badware is spread. Prescription drug offers are the most common type of spam e-mail received by New York state residents, with 64 percent saying they received one of these in the last year. Overall, men reported receiving higher levels of spam than women.

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