Spyware and the threat of unwanted programs being secretly loaded onto computers are becoming serious threats online. The Pew internet & american life study finds nine out of ten internet users say they have adjusted their online behavior out of fear of falling victim to software intrusions. Synthesis & excerpts from the report:
Many internet users’ fears are grounded in experience - 43% of internet users, or about 59 million American adults, say they have had spyware or adware on their home computer. Although most do not know the source of their woes, 68% of home internet users, or about 93 million American adults, have experienced at least one computer problem in the past year that are consistent with problems caused by spyware or viruses. Tens of millions of Americans have been affected in the past year by software intrusions and many more have begun to take precautions by changing the way they use the internet. Overall, 91% of internet users say they have made at least one change in their online behavior to avoid unwanted software
Among the changes induced due to spyware:
- 81% of internet users say they have stopped opening email attachments unless they are sure these documents are safe.
- 48% of internet users say they have stopped visiting particular Web sites that they fear might deposit unwanted programs on their computers.
- 25% of internet users say they have stopped downloading music or video files from peer-to-peer networks to avoid getting unwanted software programs on their system.
- 18% of internet users say they have started using a different Web browser to avoid software intrusions.
There are significant gaps between people’s perceptions and the reality of what is on their computers and there is a very strong likelihood that a big portion of those who have had computer problems have been victimized by spyware or more aggressive computer viruses without their knowing the cause of their problems. For instance, in October 2004, the Online Safety Study by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance reported that 53% of respondents said they had spyware or adware on their computers, but a scan revealed that 80% of respondents actually had such programs installed.