By Byron Acohido and Jon Swartz, USA TODAY
Warning: Surfing the Internet can be very risky — much more so than the average home PC user realizes.
That notion, widely held in the tech industry, is borne out by a detailed survey of 329 consumers that included inspections of each of their home computers.
In findings released Monday by America Online and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a picture emerges of consumers increasingly using their home PCs for sensitive, online transactions without adequately protecting themselves from cybercrime.
"Most people think they're safe, but they really don't know what's on their computer, and boy, are they vulnerable," says AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein.
While 77% of the survey respondents believed they were safe from online threats, two-thirds lacked current anti-virus software and did not use any firewall protection. More than half said they did not understand the difference between the two.
Yet 84% stored personal data on their home PCs, and 72% routinely used the Internet for sensitive transactions, such as banking and medical data exchanges.
When technicians examined their PCs, they found 80% loaded with dozens of spyware programs that track the user's Web-browsing habits. Cybercrooks also have begun spreading a more invasive kind of spyware, called keystroke loggers, that steal logins and passwords as the user types them in.
About 1 in 5 computers were infected with at least one computer virus. A typical virus continually self-replicates, scanning the Internet for other vulnerable machines to infect. Many viruses also allow an intruder to use the infected PC to spread spam or conduct online extortion and identity-theft scams.
Travis West, 24, of Seattle thought his PC was adequately protected, but survey technicians found it infected with multiple types of spyware and a virus. "It surprised me because I thought I was locked down," says West. "It's been a very sobering experience."full article:http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2004-10-24-pc-security_x.htm