Nobody keeps count of the number of security programs in existence, but it’s fair to say their number has rocketed in the last five years. Interestingly, this has not been in the big anti-malware suites, which are more complex but about as numerous as they ever were. The real growth has been in a new class of Web 2.0 security programs I call ‘scanning widgets’.

New examples of these mini-programs appears almost every day, a good example from recent weeks being Panda Software’s Nanoscan, a browser-based scanner that will perform a quick check of a PC for the usual array of parasites and nasties. Fire up the right browser (IE 6.0 or later on XP, not Vista) and hit the button to find out just how malware-infested your PC has become even from quite innocent use.

Does Nanoscan work? Do any of these programs work? There are now hundreds of these informal malware scanners around, some of which are quite specialised, some downloadable, and some of which are even the dwarf progeny of large companies with fat, expensive suites to sell. In the case of Nanoscan, I haven’t tested it yet, so have no idea.

Whether they are any good or not, these mini-beasts of the security software world are often marketing widgets, free lures to paid-for products, and need to be seen as that. They have a vested interest in finding something.

A good blog here by Ed Bott of ZDNet pointing out the sheer number of security programs that can be loaded on a PC has not necessarily helped security for ordinary users, and in fact might be hampering it. This phenomenon takes number of forms, including running too many security programs, running security programs plagued with false positives, and loading security programs that are so paranoid they actually interfere with the working of legitimate software.

I don’t blame security companies for trying to sell their software, but the programs Bott refers to are bound to lead to more ‘PUD’ (paranoia, uncertainty and doubt). There is an argument that hiring more policemen leads to more secure streets. Perhaps. But the rise of the scanning widget will not necessarily lead to a more secure world, and might actually have the opposite effect.