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Unsafe At High-Speed

By Robyn Greenspan | Posted June 16, 2003
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According to research from The National Cyber Security Alliance, unprotected computers are holding a lot of family secrets, and the majority are unaware that spyware lurks on their hard drives.

The Alliance, a coalition of online companies and government agencies dedicated to online computer safety, made startling discoveries about the security of personal computers among broadband users. While 86 percent maintain confidential information on their computers, 67 percent don't have properly installed and securely configured firewalls. Even worse, 91 percent of broadband users have spyware installed on their home computers — unbeknownst to them.

The data, culled from 120 lengthy in-home studies with U.S. broadband users, revealed that many home computers are susceptible to penetration, and nearly all (97 percent) of the homes with children don't have parental controls established.

"Keeping your computer, your personal information, and your children safe is something every American should take seriously. Not using common-sense precautions like firewalls, virus protection and parental controls is like leaving the door of your house wide open all night," said Orson Swindle, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission.

The majority (86 percent) of the respondents were mistakenly under the impression that their home computers were either very or somewhat safe, while 11 percent believed that they were not very safe, and 3 percent thought they weren't safe at all.

Despite the lack of security, 79 percent of survey participants used the Internet to transmit sensitive information, such as banking, stock, and medical data. The always-on broadband connection leads to increased susceptibility and interception of personal information.

Music-sharing software has emerged as one of the biggest threats to computer security, since it is often bundled with intrusion programs.

"Without even knowing that they are unsafe, millions of high-speed users are putting themselves and their families at risk by having unprotected broadband," said Alliance member Tatiana Gau, AOL's chief trust officer and senior vice president for Integrity Assurance. "A basic broadband connection without protection can be the equivalent of a high-speed sewage pipe into the home, flooding it with viruses, porn, spam, and hackers. It is critical that every broadband user practice safe broadband with, at minimum, a properly configured firewall, updated anti-virus protection, and parental controls."

Adapted from CyberAtlas.

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