McAfee today plans to announce an add-on for its enterprise antivirus products, which will offer increased protection against spyware.

Users of McAfee VirusScan Enterprise Edition versions 7.1 or 8.0i will soon be able to purchase a new McAfee Anti-Spyware Enterprise Edition Module to better protect their systems against spyware, said John Bedrick, group marketing manager at McAfee.

The spyware module is offered in addition to the protection that McAfee already offers in VirusScan Enterprise Edition 8.0i, the latest version of its antivirus product released in August. Protection in that product is limit to the top 200 types of spyware that represent real security threats, Bedrick said.

"Essentially, if it is not capturing information to be sent out or retrieved (by a hacker), or if it is not allowing people to take control of the computer, it is not covered in 8.0i," Bedrick said. "This add-on program is specifically for those customers who want to move beyond the top-200 security threats and want to get rid of all the junk."

For example, the spyware module also cleans PCs of annoying adware that continually pops up ads on to users' machines, Bedrick said. Spyware includes everything from adware to malware-like Trojans and keyloggers.

McAfee plans to include the functionality of the spyware module in a future version of VirusScan Enterprise Edition, possibly by the end of next year, Bedrick said.

McAfee is not alone in targeting spyware. Computer Associates International in August acquired antispyware software vendor PestPatrol and last week announced the availability of eTrust PestPatrol Anti-Spyware r5, which it acquired through the buyout.

Other antivirus vendors, including F-Secure, Trend Micro and Symantec, are also taking on spyware. Microsoft has said it plans to address the problem of spyware, though it has not provided many details.

Aside from the security risk, spyware can slow down computer performance significantly. It is an increasing burden on IT departments, eating up expensive helpdesk time, analysts and users said.

"It is probably 40 percent of our helpdesk calls," said Thomas Smith, manager of desktop engineering at a large Houston-based company. "Spyware is a terrible thing. It is the worst thing out there right now."

Smith manages about 5,000 Windows desktops. In several cases a PC required a new Windows installation because of spyware, he said. The company uses McAfee's VirusScan and is in the process of upgrading to version 8.0i with the included spyware protection, Smith said.

Without integrated suites of virus and spyware protection available, many organisations have adopted personal spyware programs such as the free Spybot Search & Destroy and AdAware from LavaSoft, said David Friedlander, a senior analyst at Forrester.

"Certainly there is demand for McAfee, Symantec and CA to offer antispyware products for enterprise use," Friedlander said. "As antispyware features get integrated in the antivirus suites, organisations will adopt those in place of the consumer and the free scanning tools."

The Anti-Spyware Enterprise Edition Module plugs in to the VirusScan Enterprise Edition 7.1 and 8.0i products and can be installed remotely using McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator and ProtectionPilot management tools. The product is due out in the second half of December.