October is Cyber Security (Un)Awareness Month
October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and it seems many people are in need of some serious awareness-raising on this front. A recent survey indicates that while more than 80 percent of computer users thought they had firewall software installed, follow-up inspections found that only half of those users actually had the software installed or running on their PCs.
The data comes from a poll of 3,000 Americans conducted by Zogby International, with security vendor Symantec conducting follow-up manual computer scans on computers belonging to 400 of those surveyed. While the study suggests that Americans seem to be well aware of whether they have up-to-date anti-spyware and anti-virus software installed, only 52 percent had anti-spam filters set up, even though 75 percent thought they did, Symantec found.
Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they had been targeted by a phishing attack, a scam that uses spoofed e-mail to lure recipients into entering personal or financial data at fake bank, e-commerce or social networking Web sites. In about 65 percent of those cases, recipients said the phishing e-mail looked legitimate.
More than half (54 percent) reported having their computer infected by a virus, and just 21 percent said they felt their computers were "very safe" from hacker attacks.
There are plenty of free security products available, but since there are also plenty of malicious software titles now masquerading as legitimate (see my recent scareware post for more on this), I thought it best to name a few here.
Tips and tools after the jump.
If you suspect you're security awareness-challenged, AOL's Active Security Monitor can scan your computer and tell you whether you have a firewall installed and active, and whether your system is protected by up-to-date anti-spyware, anti-virus software.
Windows 2000, XP and Vista computers ship with a firewall built in. For users searching for firewalls that are more configurable and more consistent in flagging suspicious Internet activity, ZoneAlarm is a good choice. Comodo Firewall Pro is another excellent option, but it can sometimes toss up a ton of warnings when you're trying to install software.
There are literally dozens of free programs available to help block junk e-mail from ever reaching your inbox. About.com had a nice roundup of their favorite free anti-spam programs.
Trend Micro's HijackThis! is a simple yet powerful tool that can help you regain control over which programs are allowed to start when Windows boots up. This software is indispensable in cleaning up machines infested with spyware, as well as for regular system tuneups.
Site Advisor is a useful service that tries to give warnings about the safety of sites returned in search engine results. The Site Advisor browser plug-in works for both Internet Explorer and Firefox.
Finally, it's important to note that staying safe online isn't a set-it-and-forget-it exercise that can be completely taken care of with software. Avoid clicking on links or attachments that arrive in e-mail you weren't expecting, even if they appear to come from someone you know. Also, take care with the software that you agree to install, and remember Security Fix's rule of thumb: "If you didn't go looking for it, don't install it."
It's also vital to stay up to date with the latest patches for your operating system, and for any third-party software you may have installed. Reading this blog is a good way to stay abreast of those updates, as I try to write about updates for the most widely used software, such as Adobe Reader, Flash, iTunes, QuickTime, Winamp and Winzip, to name a few.
Finally, I'll insert the obligatory reminder that one of the best ways to protect your system from malicious software and online attacks is to run your computer under a limited user account for everyday use. Instructions on how to do that are here. If you find that certain software no longer works or plays nice with the limited user account, you can always dial it back a bit and use a program like DropMyRights instead. DropMyRights lets you set programs you choose to run under a limited user mode, so that those programs do not have rights to modify key system settings or install software.
October 2, 2008; 9:30 AM ET
Categories: From the Bunker , Latest Warnings , Safety Tips , U.S. Government
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