Debunking yet another bogus malware report

I read the same story four times today, with screaming headlines proclaiming that one in four computers in the U.S. are infected with malware. It made the Inquirer and the Sydney Morning Herald, and at least one wire service. I’m sure it will continue to spread.

Turns out the story is pretty much pure BS from start to finish. The reality? A study conducted in 2005 by the Pew Internet group found that 43% of the people they surveyed had experienced problems with adware and spyware and had changed their online behavior to minimize the risks.

I’ve just published a detailed breakdown at ZDNet:

Debunking yet another bogus malware study

The OECD report is wrong, and the reporters who wrote these stories didn’t even do any rudimentary fact-checking to see whether it was correct. I went back to the original documents and followed the footnotes. This is literally a fourth-hand report from a three-year-old study, and the original research doesn’t support anything remotely like the conclusion that’s being reported today. It illustrates what is so horribly, horribly wrong with our media in general and our technical press in particular.

Here’s the real story: In a study conducted three years ago, in 2005, one organization found that roughly 43% of the American computer users they surveyed had experienced at least one go-round with spyware or adware, which they defined as the kind of programs that produce pop-up ads on users’ computers. The experience had been so annoying and frustrating for the users they spoke with that 90% of them had changed their behavior dramatically, doing things that would specifically protect them from this sort of infection. From those results, this organization extrapolated that their findings at that time would have equaled 59 million computer users who were being annoyed by adware and spyware programs.

Longtime readers of this site will remember that back in 2004 and 2005 I wrote a lot of posts about adware and spyware. It was a real plague back then. Today, the situation is far better, thanks to changes in people’s behavior, the widespread use of security software, and much better baseline security as introduced in XP SP2 in late 2004. The threats are much worse today, because of the rise of organized crime and the big money to be made in malware. But the actual rates of infection are way, way down.

Meanwhile, sensationalized reports like this one don’t help anyone.

One thought on “Debunking yet another bogus malware report

  1. The real story is the piece of advice I give all the time. Be aware of what you do on the internet and CHANGE your behavior if problems arise frequently. Security suites are mostly overkill, CPU cloggers, and allow for individuals to become complacent when surfing. We should check to see if the report was really written by Symantec … hmmmmmm…..

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