Some of the world’s most popular gadgets including iPods and satellite navigation systems could be coming ‘pre-installed’ with computer viruses, spyware and other malicious software, according to a report.

An investigation by leading news agency Associated Press (AP) tested devices freely available from major electrical stores in the US, including Apple iPods, TomTom satellite navigation systems and a digital photo frame which were found to contain some form of malware, such as spyware and keylogging software.

The revelation will surprise many consumers, with computers previously being warned over online threats rather than those that could be hidden deep within the directory files on everyday devices from some of the biggest names in the technology sector, putting their computers and personal details at risk.

The report did however concede that the presence of malware on the devices, which are commonly connected into user’s PC to allow data transfer, is not likely to be intentional or representative of a malicious attack.

Instead, the report suggested that lax IT and security standards in manufacturing plants in China and other parts of the Far East are part of the problem. For example, one likely source of the malware could be a product tester who may have inserted an infected disk or music player into a PC.

However, due to the nature of mass manufacturing, it is extremely difficult to assess the scale of the problem.

“It’s like the old cockroach thing – you flip the lights on in the kitchen and they run away,” said Marcus Sachs, a former White House cybersecurity official who now runs the security research group SANS Internet Storm Centre. “You think you’ve got just one cockroach? There’s probably thousands more of those little boogers that you can’t see.”

This is not the first time that large technology companies have been found to be shipping products containing what could be described as forms of malicious software. In 2005 Sony BMG was found to have installed a rootkit onto music CD’s as a copy protection measure – an action that is outlawed in many countries.

The report advised consumers to use up-to-date antivirus software to scan the contents of any new device that they may plug in to their system before accessing any files.

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