The House of Representatives passed the I-SPY Prevention Act yesterday, a bill aimed at attacking pesky spyware that can damage your computer as well as your financial health.

So why don't I feel any safer?

Maybe it's that this isn't the first time a bill like this has made it through the House, only to get voted down in the Senate.

Maybe it's that Congress has been at it for years, yet I still find myself avoiding unknown lyric sites or pacing in circles whenever my son is searching for video game walkthroughs online.

Maybe it's that the bill -- in its current form -- has a shot to make it, but only because it has been watered down to the point where it has as much bite as an octogenarian who has misplaced his dentures.

The meat of the matter
The ramifications in the bill sound serious enough. A developer who installs spyware on an unsuspecting computer that is then used to commit a federal crime can be put behind bars for as many as five years. However, the enforcement seems to apply only to the extreme cases in which things such as banking and credit card information are being stolen.

What happens when your browser's home page is hijacked and you get sent off to an online casino, a porn site, or a third-rate search engine? What about the seemingly harmless unauthorized applications that bog down your system's resources?

I know what you're thinking. There's a fine line between battling spyware and discouraging developers. Earlier incarnations were too vague and led to potentially crippling implications to many of the leading software companies.

As it stands, invasive spyware and debilitating viruses may be bad for you, but the industry sure knows how to profit from fear. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has promoted its latest Windows Vista release as a more secure operating system. Its latest version of Internet Explorer claims to help protect a user against malware, fraudulent websites, and online phishing scams. The company's free Windows Defender application joins a crowded field of smaller developers with anti-spyware programs.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has also played the spyware card, by pitching its Mac OS X operating system as being "designed for high security, so it isn't plagued by constant attacks from viruses and malware like PCs."

Even though the I-SPY act is aimed at spyware, not computer viruses, what would security software specialists such as Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC) and McAfee (NYSE:MFE) do if we lived in a utopian society of do-gooders?

Fear sells. It always has. It always will.

The best way to battle spyware
The tricky part of anti-spyware legislation is knowing where to draw the line. A few years ago, smaller search engines such as MIVA (NASDAQ:MIVA) came under fire because spyware spreaders were using dirt cheap paid-search ads on small sites to infect new victims. Are the search engines to blame? If so, can the next step be to blame the content sites that feature ads from third-party networks? If you haven't noticed, that implicates just about everyone these days, save for the ad-free sites like Wikipedia and Craigslist.

Wait a minute. Strike that. Hackers can just as easily go to those sites and edit or post their deviant links.

If you've ever been a victim of spyware, you know that it isn't fun. I meant what I wrote earlier about the proliferation of spyware-riddled lyric sites. The reason I'm so happy about the launch of Yahoo!'s (NASDAQ:YHOO) new song-lyrics site is that I now have a trusted place to go to clear up the words behind muddled vocal performances.

That's also sad, too. Relying on known brands instead of taking a chance on something new is the same thing that plagues me when I walk into Cheesecake Factory, comb through the menu, and order the same darn Crusted Chicken Romano that I have ordered the past dozen times.

I hate that I live in fear of trying something new. I hate that I live in fear of my PC contracting something new, too. This act, if it passes into law, isn't going to make me feel any better. Even in the extreme cases, how easy will it be to enforce punishments from data thieves in distant countries? This is the World Wide Web, you know. So I'm still wary, and you should too.

Fear sells. Unfortunately, we buy.

Yahoo! is a Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value newsletter service recommendation. A free 30-day trial subscription to either stock research service is available, if only to get you over the fear of investing in something new.  

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders whether finding a universal cure for spyware will be as hard as curing the common cold. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.