Web Surfers Suspicious

September 17, 2010
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
E-mail About the Author

Trawling the Internet can be a dangerous activity, but the security status of different types of websites is not the same, Sorin Mustaca, data security expert, says. However, when more than 3,300 people responded to a survey about Internet security on the Avira GmbH website, more than a third of the respondents said when it comes to security, all websites are equally dangerous. Mustaca, who works for Avira, says in reality, some sites and computer activities are riskier than others, but Web devotees can take simple precautions to protect themselves from e-predators.

The survey question on the company’s website asked, “Where do you suspect is the greatest danger of malware infection on the Internet?” Three categories topped the list: 34 percent of the responders said all websites are equally dangerous; 27 percent thought that sites that offer illegal software are the most dangerous; while 22 percent stated that most of the danger lurks in websites with pornographic content. Of the remaining survey participants, 13 percent thought browser games such as poker are highly unsafe, while 4 percent said they don’t trust large portals simply because they are so popular. The irony, Mustaca says, is that the “all websites are equally dangerous” was added as a catch-all in case the surveyors had missed a possibility in the first four choices.

Mustaca admits that the survey information is more anecdotal than scientific, but he believes the data reveals overall perceptions—and misperceptions. While it didn’t surprise him that respondents believe that large portalssuch as Yahoo! or MSNare generally safe, he was surprised in another way. “Those people who are normally not surfing the known malware sources sites such as porn are the most afraid, and these are most of the users. So they’ve heard that there are so many things that can go wrong online that they are afraid of everything,” he shares.

One reason many surfers are anxious about the security of websites in general is that they are overloaded with information about the mishaps that have occurred. “They don’t really understand it from a security point of view, but they’ve heard about them [computer viruses], they know that they are bad because the articles in the major media are written in such a way that they blur the security stuff. Our experience shows that even the sites that we never thought could get infected can be infected, so users believe anything can happen,” Mustaca relates.

This is not necessarily a bad attitude, he admits. It increases surfers’ tendency to be cautious. In that vein, following a few “golden rules of security” helps website visitors decrease the danger of being infected with a virus or losing their information.

“The most important rule is do not download and execute files from sites other than those that you know are good, like Microsoft, Adobe and Avira. Simply go to websites that you know you can trust from years of frequently visiting and from their good reputation. If you don’t go to the source, then go to known websites like download.com that have a very good reputation. It’s very important that you don’t ‘play’ with your computer and that you don’t open everything you receive. These two rules are the most important,” he recommends.

Mustaca also notes that even though most operating systems are more protected than in the past, when it comes to security not all operating systems are equal. For this reason, it is important that web users look for digital signatures whenever they receive files from what appears to be a computer company. When most people receive notifications about updates for example, they simply click through the download screens without paying much attention to the origin of the update. “Watch the screen. Don’t just click next, next, next,” he warns.

Also, in the last three years, the explosion of social media is creating another danger. Without much thought, social networkers publish a lot of information about their private lives that can put them at risk. A simple example is sharing vacation information on a Facebook page. While it may be nice to let people know where you are, this information also alerts burglars about where you are not—in your house, Mustaca points out.

Finally, all users should have some anti-malware, anti-spyware or anti-spam software and a web scanner on their computers.

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