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Survey Finds Almost a Quarter Dealt with Badware Infection

NEW YORK CITY, October 28, 2008 – 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, the Internet integrity division of Consumers Union.

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.

The survey, focusing on online fraud in New York state, was commissioned by Consumer Reports WebWatch, which evaluates the credibility of Web sites and advocates for consumer-focused Internet policy and governance, and is being released to coordinate with National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and the launch of Consumer Reports’ freeOnline Security Guide. The survey is also part of WebWatch’s ongoing “Look Before You Click” campaign, supported by a CyberAwareness Grant from the New York State Attorney General and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Read more about the campaign.

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.

Other Survey Highlights: Spam
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.

Online Shopping
More than 20 percent of respondents reported not getting their money refunded from a problematic online transaction; 17 percent had a problem getting their money back from an actual online purchase. Consumer Reports WebWatch will release more online shopping data from this survey in mid-November.

For additional information on Internet threats and how consumers can protect themselves online, visit the Consumer Reports Online Security Guide, which features a new musical video commissioned by WebWatch called “Gone Phishing,” developed to educate consumers about the dangers of e-mail phishing scams. Consumer Reports WebWatch is also preparing to launch, in conjunction with its partner StopBadware.org, a new site called BadwareBusters.org, where people can go to give and receive the help they need to fight back against badware. The site is expected to launch in November.

Poll Methodology
The survey was commissioned by Consumer Reports WebWatch, designed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center and conducted with a sample of 2,008 panelists representative of the geographic population distribution of New York State. Eligible respondents had been using the Internet for more than a year and owned a home computer for at least six months. The sample was representative of New York State residents who had been online for at least a year and is not nationally representative. The results may differ for a sample of less experienced users.

About Consumer Reports WebWatch
Consumer Reports WebWatch is the Internet integrity division of Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine, the Consumer Reports on Health and Money Adviser newsletters, and a variety of sites advocating consumer rights in the marketplace. We research and investigate Web sites on behalf of consumers, and we advocate for consumerfocused Internet policy and governance. Consumer Reports WebWatch accepts no advertising. Consumer Reports WebWatch is a member of the Internet Society, a grassroots group focused on Internet policy; and is an atlarge structure (ALS) in the user community of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers. WebWatch also serves as an unpaid special adviser to StopBadware.org, a “Neighborhood Watch” initiative led by Harvard University’s Berkman Center and the Oxford Internet Institute devoted to helping Internet users avoid downloading malicious spyware, adware and malware programs. With the Center for Media and Democracy, WebWatch publishes Full Frontal Scrutiny, dedicated to exposing the activities of front groups in modern media and culture.