Spyware casts lengthening shadow over Net usage

Over 90 per cent of Internet users have changed their online behaviour due to concerns about spyware, according to the latest research from Pew Internet.

A new Pew Internet Project report, covering US Internet users, suggests 81 per cent of those online say they have stopped opening email attachments unless they are sure these documents are safe. And 18 per cent say they have started using a different Web browser to avoid software intrusions.

This chimes with recent research over the decline in market share for Internet Explorer following the repeated security alerts surrounding Microsoft’s browser, a migration which has largely benefited the open source Firefox.

Apparently, awareness is also increasing about the relative danger of dodgy Internet sites. Almost half, 48 per cent, of internet users say that they have stopped visiting particular websites due to the fear they might deposit unwanted programs.

More specifically, 25 per cent of respondents said they have stopped downloading music or video files from peer-to-peer networks to avoid getting unwanted additional software on their PCs.

The report, which was written by Pew’s Associate Director, Susannah Fox, highlights the threat to broadband users, who are more likely to take part in heavy duty file-swapping through p2p networks. Visiting adult websites and playing online games are also identified as the most likely way to attract spyware.

‘Familiarity breeds contempt when it comes to spyware. The more Internet users know about these programs, the more they want to sound the alarm and take steps to protect themselves,’ said Fox. ‘These survey results show that as Internet users gain experience with spyware and adware, they are more likely to say they are changing their behaviour.’

‘But what is more alarming,’ she adds, ‘is the larger universe of people who have struggled with mysterious computer problems, but have no idea why. Internet users are increasingly frustrated and frightened that they are not in charge of their Internet experience.’

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