Spyware: Watch Out for What's Going Into your Computer
DATE: May 27, 2005
The continued growth of technology has brought tremendous improvement to our lives from advances in medical research to the ability to communicate with loved ones located thousands of miles away. While the benefits of this technology continue to increase, so too does the vulnerability of those who use it.
I was pleased that the House of Representatives this week passed the Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act of 2005, legislation which I introduced. This bipartisan legislation, which passed 395-1, addresses the most serious activities that are conducted via spyware and makes those activities criminal offenses.
Software is deemed "spyware" when it is installed secretly by devious individuals and performs additional functions of which the user is unaware. The I-SPY Prevention Act is a targeted approach that protects consumers by imposing stiff penalties on the truly bad actors, while protecting the ability of legitimate companies to develop new and exciting products and services online for consumers.
In April 2004, the Federal Trade Commission testified before a House subcommittee that "spyware appears to be a new and rapidly growing practice that poses a risk of serious harm to consumers."
By imposing criminal penalties on these bad actors, this legislation will help deter the use of spyware, and will thus help protect consumers from these aggressive attacks. At the same time, the legislation leaves the door open for innovative technology developments to continue to combat spyware programs.
The legislation also authorizes $10 million to the Department of Justice to combat spyware and phishing and pharming scams. "Phishing" scams typically involve the use of fake e-mail messages and websites to lure consumers into providing bank account information, credit card numbers and other personal information. These fake e-mail messages and websites are often indistinguishable from the real ones and often request account information from consumers.
Even worse, in "pharming" scams spyware is used to send unknowing internet users to look alike fake websites when they think they are going to the real one. They then unknowingly give up account information and password to criminals.
Spyware presents several potential risks including the promotion of identity theft, by harvesting personal information from consumers' computers. Additionally, it can adversely affect businesses, as they are forced to sustain costs to block and remove spyware from employees' computers, not to mention the potential impact on productivity.
The benefits of technology are vast and every person should have the right to enjoy them and not worry that every click of their mouse is being recorded by a complete stranger. It is time that we crack down on Internet spyware abuse. By imposing stiff penalties, my legislation will help to deter spyware abusers and help protect consumers.