The Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC), a group of IT companies and public interest bodies, is hoping to succeed where a previous organisation failed in tackling spyware. The ASC has released an agreed-upon draft definition of spyware that it hopes will promote public comment and ultimately result in users becoming better educated about the dangers of spyware.
The Consortium of Anti-Spyware Technology Vendors (Coast), initially drawn from the security software vendor community, fell apart in February after a failed 16-month effort to coordinate its members' conflicting goals and an ongoing debate over admitting companies that created spyware. The ASC, convened by the Center for Democracy and Technology, has a much wider membership than Coast.
ASC members include the likes of America Online, Computer Associates., Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Yahoo, along with McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro, and anti-spyware specialist vendors Aluria Software and Webroot Software. The organisation also numbers the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, the Cyber Security Industry Alliance and The University of California Berkeley's Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic among its members.
Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, has been heading up the ASC's work.
The ASC is inviting public comment for the next month on documents it has released. The documents include a list of spyware and other potentially harmful technologies aimed at users, a glossary defining commonly used terms relating to spyware and safety tips about how to protect against spyware. There's also a process laying out how to resolve disputes if a vendor believes its software has been wrongly tagged as spyware.
Spyware can be defined two ways, according to the ASC. "In its narrow sense, spyware is a term for tracking software deployed without adequate notice, consent or control for the user," the organization states in its glossary. However spyware is also used as an umbrella term encompassing not only its narrow definition, but also other "potentially unwanted technologies," the ASC adds, including harmful adware, unauthorized dialers, rootkits and hacker tools.
In its antispyware safety tips document, the ASC has six major recommendations for users to defend themselves against spyware. The organization suggests that users keep the security on their computers up to date; only download programs from Web sites they trust; familiarize themselves with the fine print attached to any downloadable software; avoid being tricked into clicking dialog boxes; beware of so-called "free" programs; and use antispyware, antivirus and firewall software.