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Spyware-killers get going online

Congress is moving fast on digital pests. Security firms may already have part of the answer.

As Congress takes a more serious look at legislation to restrain spyware, a growing number of online companies are lining up to give consumers their own anti-spyware tools.

The latest is security software company PestPatrol, which on Monday launched a new anti-spyware resource center, drawing together how-to articles, a large searchable database of spyware, adware and related "pests," and other information on the issue.

The site focuses more heavily on spyware information than do similar sites at antivirus companies such as Symantec. But like those rivals, it aims to show the breadth of its creators' familiarity with the ever-evolving world of digital annoyances and, ultimately, persuade people to buy its software.

"An anti-spyware solution is only as good as the threat database behind it," David Stang, PestPatrol's co-founder, said in a statement.

Public concern over spyware and adware has rocketed over the past year as infestations increase, and as consumers begin to associate onslaughts of pop-up advertisements with such software, which has often been installed on their computer without their knowledge or full understanding.

Utah was the first state to pass a law restricting the distribution of some kinds of adware and spyware, but a court blocked enforcement of the measure last week. Congressional lawmakers in the United States are meanwhile working hard to pass national rules before the end of the year, although technology companies still have concerns about the legislators' approach.

EarthLink, America Online and other large Internet service providers are now offering anti-spyware tools to subscribers, while security companies have expanded their antivirus lines to include tools for rooting out advertising software.

Anti-spyware tools now hold the top two spots on the "most popular" list at Download.com, a software aggregation site operated by News.com publisher CNET Networks. Over the past few years, those slots were typically held by file-sharing programs, which are often viewed as the most prevalent distributors of adware.