Consumers Think Their PCs Are Secure -- But They're Wrong

A study shows that while 94% of consumers say they're running antivirus software, 48% actually have let it expire, and are running fully exposed.

When it comes to putting their computers -- and their personal and financial information at risk -- consumers simply don't know how much trouble they're in.

This comes from a study jointly released by the National Cyber Security Alliance and McAfee. The survey shows a dramatic gap between consumers' perceptions and the reality, according to Bari Abdul, VP of McAfee Consumer.

"We found that consumers have a heightened sense of awareness about cybersecurity," Abdul told InformationWeek. "The bad news is that they have a false sense of security. For instance, 70% say they have anti-spyware, but only 55% do. They think it's either part of their antivirus software or they think they installed it but they haven't. There's a huge difference between perception and reality."

Abdul pointed out that 93% of consumers polled said they're confident that they're protected against malware. And 94% said they have antivirus software. They're not even close to the truth.

According to Abdul, 48% of those same respondents actually had let their anti-virus software expire and they were running without any AV protection whatsoever.

"They are full exposed," he added. "Maybe they don't renew their antivirus because they're under a time crunch or they think it's a bother. We know a lot of consumers ignore those messages they get about the product. Sixty-five percent of consumers don't like to manually click on an update. ... We have our work cut out for us to tell them they need to renew."

Abdul also noted that the study showed that 78% of consumers don't have a full combination of antivirus, firewall, and anti-spyware applications. And for the 81% who do have a firewall installed on their computer, only 64% actually activated it.

As bad as these numbers might look, it's not slowing people down from storing more of their personal and financial information on their machines and doing more of their banking and investing online.

"Some consumers tell us they're losing control of their PCs," he noted. "At the same time, the numbers are growing for people banking online. ... Overall, they have a false sense of security. If they see a pop-up, they think it's just a pop-up and they don't connect that with a vulnerability."

The McAfee/NCSA study also showed that while 98% acknowledged the importance of having up-to-date security on their computer, 48% of scanned computers hadn't been updated within the month. The survey also showed that 54% had been hit with a virus and 44% thought they were infected with spyware.

"These results show a tremendous need to educate consumers about online security," said Ron Teixeira, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, in a written statement. "That's why we're asking consumers to protect themselves before they connect themselves ... and take a few minutes to find ways to better secure their identities, computers and our nation's infrastructure from cyberthreats."

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