Americans Confused as Ever over Cyber-security

You can lead users to security but that doesn't mean they'll use it or even know whether they have it. In the annual kickoff campaign for cyber-security awareness, Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance say a large number of Americans still fail to use basic Internet security tools, and there remains a substantial gap between the protections people think they have and what is actually installed on their computers.

WASHINGTON-Most American computer users are aware of the dangers of cruising the Internet with the security windows down and they are taking precautions, or at least think they are. The numbers, though, say otherwise.

For instance, according to a study released Oct. 2, more than 80 percent of American computer users polled claimed to have a firewall installed on their systems, but, in fact, only 42 percent had adequate firewall protection. The study, conducted by the NCSA (National Cyber Security Alliance) and Symantec, combined polling and computer checkups performed by Symantec's PC Help by Norton.

"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," NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser said at a National Press Club morning conference. "Too often, cyber-security has been made to seem complicated and inaccessible. Staying safe online appears daunting for users."

The NCSA-Symantec study was released to coincide with National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an annual education and public awareness campaign focusing on cyber-security. The effort enjoys the support of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), Symantec, McAfee, Cisco Systems and Microsoft.

Despite the gloomy consumer firewall news, Kaiser insisted "great strides" are being made to convince American users to better secure their computers, pointing to the fact that the NCSA-Symantec study shows that users' perceptions closely matched reality when it came to anti-spyware software. Spyware and spam protection were early focuses of a four-year cyber-security awareness campaign.

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The study shows little difference the percentage of Americans who had anti-spyware software installed (82 percent) and the percentage who said they had it installed (83 percent). Still, close to one-fifth of all users do not have adequate spyware defenses.

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

Rak and other officials said while most Americans still struggle with proper cyber-security measures, they do recognize the danger: Only 26 percent of Americans polled said they felt their computers were "very safe" from viruses, and only 21 percent said their computers were "very safe" from hacker attacks.

DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Gregory Garcia claimed that 2007 was a watershed year for the campaign, as it reached 133 million Americans. Canada also joined the program in 2007.

"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," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.