Tech Coalition Seeking Input to Define Spyware

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A group of software vendors and technology organizations wants a universal definition of the term spyware before attempting to limit the technology's reach, officials said Tuesday.

The Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC) published a 13-page draft report detailing the many terms used in the spyware lexicon, how they work and basic tips to get rid of the software that burrows into a user's computer and provides sensitive information.

The group has its own definition and is now looking for feedback on the report, setting up an online comment form. From there, the ASC will revise the document and release a final version in the early fall.

The goal of the ''Spyware Definitions and Supporting Documents'' is to provide a definition of terms so the group can move forward with industry best practices and risk modeling. But before the group can do that, said David McGuire, ASC spokesman, everyone needs to agree on the words.

''The persistent concern in the spyware arena is that the definition of spyware has been very spongy; it changes from product to product, person to person, and from analyst to analyst,'' he said. ''A lot of this stems from not having a common dictionary of terms. These terms were sort of created in an ad hoc way, as many Internet terms are, and mean different things to different people.''

What the ASC will not become, McGuire said, is a group that certifies or sanctions software.

There are a bevy of terms used to describe spyware, from snoopware, keyloggers, screen scrapers to tracking cookies, but the ASC has expanded its reach to include terms outside the strict definition of spyware to incorporate other technologies that are placed in user's PCs without their knowledge. They include adware, zombies, dialers, rootkits, tricklers and droneware.

The ASC is made up of 19 organizations, including security and software vendors, as well as groups such as the University of California, Berkeley's Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic. Each organization helps fund the ASC, with the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) providing the coordination efforts behind the anti-spyware move.

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