"The best measure of our success is when any of these companies change their business process and we're seeing them adjusting," said Palfrey. "At the same time, we're trying to enable [end-users] to make better choices with their using habits."
So many of the people who end up on StopBadware's list need help understanding what it is that they're doing wrong that the team feels its ability to mete out advice is being overwhelmed, he said.
At the same time, StopBadware admits that sophisticated hackers are still advancing their efforts at an alarming pace and the organization can't keep up with the ever-growing volume of online malware programs.
In addition to tracking down the programs, StopBadware is also charting regional trends, and the researchers contend that a growing number of suspicious applications are originating in China. The level of interaction between malware authors in the region and their Western counterparts is also becoming more prevalent, with a fair share of distribution still emanating from former Soviet-bloc regions as well, the team said.
The key for legitimate businesses to steer clear of the entire problem is to be careful with the companies they partner with, said Palfrey, who served as host of an Anti-Spyware Coalition conference held at Harvard in June. The security consortium is backed by influential industry players, including AOL, Dell, Google, McAfee, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
"The biggest concern for legitimate businesses at this point is related primarily to software bundling," said Palfrey. "There's often a complicated chain between the original purveyor of a program and the consumer, so companies need to be explicit about what they would qualify for badware-type behavior themselves and hold their partners to that."