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Get safe online

The low-down on a new website to help you stay secure

Get Safe Online, a new website and security campaign aimed at individuals and small businesses, was launched on Thursday 27 October. Microsoft is one of the sponsors.

The press pack for the launch included a report on people's attitudes to security. It contained some eye-opening results:

17% of those surveyed rated internet crime as their number one everyday threat (ahead of car theft and mugging)

Only 43% of broadband users have a firewall installed

More than half of respondents have 'little or no knowledge of PC safety'

Normally I'm sceptical about surveys. They remind me of the cutting satires in the Onion ("Study Reveals Pittsburgh Unprepared for Full-Scale Zombie Attack") or this send-up of IT security planning in The Register.

However, what I like about Get Safe Online is that it is a free public service. The sponsors, the Government, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and leading businesses are not trying to sell anything. The site itself is comprehensive, well-written and easy to use.

Additional threats

So what's all this got to do with your business? "Businesses share the same threats as individuals," says Detective Chief Superintendent Sharon Lemon, head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, "but they also face additional threats."

Quote�Technology can't stop people getting ripped off in an auction or suckered in by advance fee fraud. Knowledge can.�End Quote

The site covers all the basics that any individual or small business needs to do: anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, firewalls, updates etc. In addition, it covers online behaviour. Technology can't stop people getting ripped off in an auction or suckered in by advance fee fraud. Knowledge can.

One section of the site covers basic business security. It's aimed at smaller businesses, typically with ten or fewer employees, but it's all relevant information.

There's lots of cross-over between personal and corporate security: an employee takes work home but runs it on a compromised computer; 'botnets' of virus-infected computers are used by hackers to shut down business websites; most spam and phishing emails are sent by corrupted computers. Usually the business owner doesn't know they've got a problem.

There's a network effect with internet security. The more people have good security, the harder it is for criminals to exploit the internet and the safer it gets for everyone. It's like pollution in a river. If just one factory stops pumping out effluent, the river gets cleaner for everyone. If criminality is one side of the problem, says Lemon, the other side is driven by user ignorance and confusion. Luckily, "this site will tell people what to do."

So no advice this time round except Get Safe Online!

However, I'd like to close on a positive note. Forget bird flu and zombie attacks. The Get Safe Online report did contain one snippet of good news for switched-on businesses. 38% of respondents plan to do Christmas shopping online (up from 24% last year). Remember, there are just fifty-one clicking days left to Christmas.

What next?

Visit Get Safe Online at www.getsafeonline.org

How's your overall approach to security? Find out if you could be doing more with our interactive security check.

Matthew Stibbe writes a new column every fortnight. Sign up to receive them automatically by email.

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