Americans Still Somewhat Befuddled by Cyber Security

Every year there’s a kickoff for a campaign on cyber-security awareness in the form of National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  The campaign looks to better inform people on the hazards that may await them online.  Each year, Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance perform some basic assessments of users’ internet behaviors and each year they get a disappointing confirmation that many Americans still just don’t get some important concepts cyber security.

In the most recent study, conducted by October 2, there were some signs of progress.  Most Americans were aware that the internet presented many dangers from identity theft to computer hijacking.  Additionally most believed they were taking steps to counter these threats.

However, there appears to be a growing trend towards a false sense of security.  Of those surveyed, 80 percent claimed to have a firewall installed on their system.  However, only 42 percent actually had sufficient firewall defenses.  NCSA (National Cyber Security Alliance) and Symantec obtained the information via a combination of polling and checks performed by Symantec’s PC Help by Norton. 

NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser described at a National Press Club conference, “We must redouble our efforts to ensure that Americans know how to use all of the tools necessary to protect their computers, themselves and their families from harm.  Too often, cyber-security has been made to seem complicated and inaccessible. Staying safe online appears daunting for users.”

The National Cyber Security Awareness Month enjoys the support of many partners, government and public.  Its supporters include the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), Symantec, McAfee, Cisco Systems and Microsoft.

While Americans remain very confused on cyber security, Mr. Kaiser says that “great strides” are being made to convince these individuals to change their habits.  He credits the campaign for part of this progress.  The campaign target spyware awareness for the early focus of the four-year cyber security campaign.  The study founded that users’ assessment of their spyware protection matched reality closely, with 83 percent saying they had it and 82 percent actually having it.  Still, Mr. Kaiser and others say it is alarming that almost a fifth of internet-connected Americans have no spyware protection.

Adam Rak, senior director of public affairs for Symantec, warns, “Anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software are the front-line basic protections that all Americans should have.”

At least the survey illustrates that Americans are starting to understand the danger that exists.  Only 26 percent of those polled said that there computers were “very safe” against viruses, and only 21 percent responded that their computers were “very safe” versus hacker assaults.  DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Gregory Garcia praised the program, claiming that in 2007 it reached 133 million Americans.  Last year Canada joined the program as well.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced in a statement, “Because no single entity owns the Internet, the federal government needs the cooperation of both the private sector and everyday citizens to protect against a range of cyber-threats.”

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