A new Pew Internet Project report shows that about 93 million American internet users (68% of them) have had computer trouble in the past year that is consistent with problems caused spyware and viruses, though 60% of those who had problems were not sure where the problem originated.
Some 25% of internet users have seen new programs on their computers that they did not install or new icons on their desktop that seemed to come out of nowhere. One in five internet users (18%) have had their homepage inexplicably changed.
The report, written by PIPâ€™s Associate Director Susannah Fox, says that those who have broadband connections at home and those who range far and wide online are among those most vulnerable to spyware. Some of the most risky online behaviors that seem to attract spyware are downloading peer-to-peer services and swapping files over them, visiting adult Web sites, and playing online games.
“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 behavior. But what is more alarming 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.”
In addition to causing headaches among tens of millions of Americans, spyware has fundamentally changed the way people behave online with 91% reporting that they have changed the way they behave online as they try to avoid unwanted and invasive software.