The Internet Industry Association (IIA) Monday launched its GetNetSafe scheme, which aims to increase the awareness of online security, and spyware in particular, with Australian Internet users.
The program targets all home users, including families and small businesses, and is being run as a part of the National E-Security Awareness Week that will run through to October 27.
Undetected spyware could track users' behaviour on the Internet, record passwords and other sensitive information, and cost users speed and bandwidth by using infected computers to send out large volumes of spam, the IIA warns.
"Spyware has been around for a long time," said IIA chief executive, Peter Coroneos. "Now, criminals are increasingly using this to commit acts of fraud and identity theft. It is a huge privacy issue."
"There is no doubt that spyware has overtaken spam as the most serious issue facing internet users today", he said. "We are committed to helping users manage that threat by making available advanced software solutions."
To encourage Internet users to start taking measures against malware, the GetNetSafe scheme is making available free trials of anti-spyware, anti-virus and anti-spam software on its Web site. Free trials are delivered via GetNetSafe's sponsors, who include Cleartext, Ironport, Marshal, McAfee, Sophos, Symantec, Trendmicro, and Websense.
As there currently exists no internationally accepted definition of spyware, the IIA has been unable to determine the extent to which Australian Internet users are affected, Coroneos said. However, he said, law enforcement authorities estimate that computers per botnet (network of computers infected by each source) now number in the hundreds of thousands, and there are thousands of botnets on the Internet.
That works out to hundreds if millions of users, a fraction of which are bound to be Australian, he said.
"People need to be very alert to online security issues," Coroneos said. "You should not be on the Internet today without current, updated software tools - that means a reliable firewall, and anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-spyware solutions, which should be updated regularly."
Australia's first National E-Security Awareness Week was launched by Senator Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. A variety of events will be run over the course of this week, including seminars, public forums for seniors, and training sessions for small businesses.