The free software is designed to give advice to users about potential security risks.
AOL plans on Thursday to officially release its Active Security Monitor software, which has been in beta testing since May 15th.
The free software, available to AOL members and non-members alike, is designed to serve as an automated, personal IT department, offering advice to users about potential security risks.
"With one distinction," says Edmund Fish, SVP and general manager of premium and subscription service at AOL. "I don’t know how many IT guys you talk to but I'm not a computer scientist. Sometimes I don't understand what they're telling me. What this tries to do is talk in words and make recommendations in terms that non-computer scientists can follow."
ASM is thus more of an educational tool than security software. It's designed to identify risks in a way that's comprehensible to technically disinclined users and to recommend products that can mitigate those risks.
The problem, of course, is that being technically disinclined almost guarantees an insecure computer because modern computing is by its nature complex. Even for technically savvy users, plugging all the holes in today's software is a Herculean challenge.
"In reality, more than 80% of people who think they're covered are not," says Fish, citing a recent study conducted by AOL and the non-profit National Cyber Security Alliance.
ASM continually checks for the presence of protection in the following areas: anti-spyware, anti-virus, firewall, wireless security, operating system, and browser. It also checks for peer-to-peer software and PC utilities, which are known vectors for malware.
In addition to providing users with a security score for a single PC, it can also scan home networks to determine a household security score.
Fish says your security is only as strong as your weakest link, a truism he's seen validated firsthand. "My PC was well-managed because I run all of these various products," he says, "and my 13-year-old was the weakest link. And that actually compromised my network."
ASM is available for Windows PCs and the Internet Explorer browser. Support for Firefox and other browsers is planned.
Fish sees ASM as complementary to other security software and services like Windows Live OneCare. "Those products try to provide prevention or remediation," he says. "There are a variety of solutions. But the biggest problem is education."
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