A third of respondents said that spyware has been on the rise in the past six months.
In a nationwide survey of IT managers and executives, 70 percent expressed growing concern over spyware, yet fewer than than 10 percent have installed anti-spyware software, according to a statement issued by Webroot, the Boulder, Colo., security software company that commissioned the survey. The survey was conducted by Equation Research.
The disconnect appears to come from slow realization of the problem and the need to put out fires before trying a comprehensive approach, said Richard Stiennon, vice president of threat research for Webroot.
"Spyware is insidious and has been installing itself for the last two or three years," Stiennon said. "But now it's at a flash point, where IT managers are finding computer systems are crashing, or it takes forever for systems to boot up. And when they investigate the problem, they're finding it's spyware. The first response is to use the first tool you can as a point solution...but because a one-to-one (software) solution is too costly over time, they're beginning to look at pushing out solutions to every desktop."
The vast majority of executives and IT managers surveyed, 96 percent, feel that their existing antivirus and firewall software protect them from outside threats, according to the study.
"They're thinking that spyware is not a threat to their security but just a threat to their productivity," Stiennon said. "That's how they felt about spam in the beginning, too."
However, 82 percent of those surveyed said their desktops are currently infected with spyware. A third of respondents said that spyware has been on the rise in the past six months.
The situation is similar among consumers. Last year, the National Cyber Security Alliance said that 91 percent of 120 individuals participating in a study had spyware loaded on their computers. And virtually none of the participants realized spyware could be transmitted and installed via file-sharing programs.
Security software giant McAfee launched an anti-spyware software product last year. Other, smaller companies have also done so, including PestPatrol, Spybot-Search & Destroy and Lavasoft, with its Ad-Aware tool.