If you have any doubts about how serious an issue malware has become, just check in with the company help desk. They're probably in constant motion, trying to revive PCs that have slowed to a crawl.
"It's unbelievable," Forrester Research analyst Natalie Lambert says. "If you ask any company why it has invested in anti-spyware tools, the first thing they'll say is that every PC was running so slowly that they couldn't function."
And it's getting worse, Lambert says. As annoying as spyware and adware might be, someone is making money off it, and that has spawned a whole industry of malware professionals, motivated by the almighty dollar. "It's getting worse because virus and worm writers have discovered that, by switching their skills to spyware, they can make a good living," she says. "They're paid to see how devious they can be."
Indeed, they can be pretty devious. In addition to clogging system processes with so much digital gunk that they barely work, spyware can install keyloggers, Trojans and all kinds of other nasties without users ever being the wiser. "The performance issues are bad enough, but spyware can mean that you have intellectual property getting out to people who you don't want to know your secrets," Lambert says. "This stuff is often installed by drive-by download, so controlling it can be a problem."
Nevertheless, it's not so much of a problem that it can't be controlled. In fact, there are a number of fairly straightforward steps any organization or user can take to kill, or at least start controlling malware in ten minutes. The first step is pretty obvious -- deploy some kind of anti-spyware program. Malware has become so much of a problem that fairly complete and affordable software tools are available from McAfee, Ad-Aware and Symantec.