Home Internet users have a one in three chance of suffering computer damage, financial loss, or both because of a computer virus or spyware according to the conclusions of the 2005 Consumer Reports State of the Net survey of online consumers. The survey found that viruses, spyware and phishing are on the rise; but that spam is easing. And despite the fact that consumers spent more than $2.6 billion over the past two years for protection software, more than $9 billion was spent on computer repairs, parts, and replacement because of viruses and spyware. Along with more unsettling findings, the September issue of Consumer Reports, also available on http://www.ConsumerReports.org , includes an Online Survival Guide complete with tips and best practices for safe online surfing and Consumer Reports’ independent tests and ratings of antispam, antivirus, and antispyware programs.
2005 Consumer Reports State of the Net
Results of Consumer Reports’ (CR) nationally representative survey of more than 3,200 households with at-home Internet access indicate that the Internet is no longer the urbane information motorway it was five years ago. An individual consumer now faces assaults through e-mail, Websites, messaging services, and downloads. Among CR’s survey findings:
— 64 percent of survey respondents said they had detected viruses on their computer in the past two years.
— 52 percent reported a spyware infection in the past six months; of those, 18 percent reported having had an infection so serious that they had to erase their hard drives.
— Nearly 20 percent of spam recipients said spam interfered with their browser.
— 17 percent of respondents said they don’t use antivirus software.
— 13 percent said that the need to avoid spam and email scams had induced them to shop online less; but, about 1.2 million online households helped keep spammers in business with purchases of products or services advertised through spam.
— 10 percent of respondents with high-speed broadband access said they don’t have firewall protection that would block online intruders. Nationally, that’s the equivalent of 3.6 million unprotected households.
— 6 percent of respondents had submitted personal information in response to a phishing scam. Financial losses were rare – only .5 percent – but expensive, costing $400 on average, and a few topped $1000.
— Macs are safer than Windows PCs for some online hazards. Only 20 percent of Mac owners surveyed reported detecting a virus in the past two years compared with 66 percent of PC owners.
— 8 percent of Mac users reported a spyware infection in the last six months vs. 54 percent of Windows PC users.
Consumer Reports notes that the most immediate help for consumers is from some leading Internet service providers, notably AOL and EarthLink. They, along with MSN and others, provide antivirus protection and filter out spam and phishing e-mail before it reaches the user.
Computer users who take the right precautions can greatly reduce exposure to online hazards. The experts at Consumer Reports recommend the following 13 steps and practices to safeguard computer security.
1. Upgrade the operating system — Windows XP users should enable automatic updates and install Service Pack 2. Mac users should update with the Software Update Control Panel.
2. Use a firewall. Windows XP has one built-in and a router most likely has one built-in.
3. Adjust browser security settings to medium or higher.
4. Consider an ISP or e-mail provider that offers security.
5. Use antivirus software.
6. Use more than one antispyware program, which can boost coverage.
7. Regularly back-up personal files which safeguards data in case of a security problem.
8. Beware while browsing. Be wary of ad-sponsored or “free” giveaways. They probably include spyware.
9. Avoid short passwords to foil password-cracking software.
10. Use e-mail cautiously — never open an attachment unless you were expecting it.
11. Use multiple e-mail addresses so you can drop one when it attracts too much spam.
12. Take a stand – don’t buy anything promoted in a spam message.
13. Look for secure Websites that show an icon of an unbroken key or a lock that’s closed at the bottom of the page. Also the Web address should begin with “https:” when entering personal data.
Tests and Ratings of Antispam, Antivirus, and Antispyware Programs
Consumer Reports also tested and rated antispam, antivirus, and antispyware programs. Among the various products tested, CR recommends Allume Systems SpamCatcher 4 ($30) and MailFrontier Desktop ($30) as the best choices among those tested as add-on antispam programs. Users running an older version of Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail should consider upgrading to Microsoft Outlook 2003 or Apple OS 10.4 Mail.
Among antivirus programs, CR recommends Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2005 ($50) and Kaspersky Lab Anti-Virus Personal 5.0 ($35) for consumers that have no antivirus programs. CR also notes that Alwil Avast Antivirus ( http:www.avast.com ) offers free full-featured protection and is easy to use but offers limited support.
For an excellent main antispyware program with real-time protection, the experts at CR recommend Microsoft AntiSpyware. This free program is beta version and Microsoft says it will offer the final version to licensed Windows users.
Also in the September issue of Consumer Reports are survey results of Internet Provider satisfaction, a guide to home networking and ratings and recommendations on laptop and desktop computers — including brand repair history. The September issue goes on sale Tuesday, August 9th wherever magazines are sold.
MacDailyNews Take: There are zero Mac OS X viruses. Excluding Microsoft Word and Excel Macro Viruses, there were about 25 viruses total that affected the original or “classic” Mac OS. Apple CEO Steve Jobs held an “funeral” on May 6, 2002 for the classic Mac OS, as the operating system reached its “end of life.” Windows, at last count, had 97,467 viruses vs. 0 for Apple’s Mac OS X. What viruses did respondents to Consumer Reports’ survey find exactly? A Microsoft Word Macro virus on a dusty floppy diskette from 1989 that was designed to infect System 6? Or were the Mac users simply detecting Windows viruses and spyware that would be harmless to their Macs? There are zero viruses for Apple computers running Mac OS X.
We sent Consumer Reports this email:
Consumer Reports states, “Macs are safer than Windows PCs for some online hazards. Only 20 percent of Mac owners surveyed reported detecting a virus in the past two years compared with 66 percent of PC owners. 8 percent of Mac users reported a spyware infection in the last six months vs. 54 percent of Windows PC users.”
As Mac OS X has zero viruses and no known spyware in the wild, we are wondering how Consumer Reports arrived at these numbers? Are you including older, non-Mac OS X, Mac operating system versions? If so, you should state that Apple has not shipped new Macs with these older Mac operating systems since the start of 2003 or not use the numbers as they are not representative of Macs that people can buy today, which would presumably be the Macs in which your readers would be interested in purchasing.
Also, did the respondents included in your survey have the technical knowledge necessary to discern viruses and spyware from other issues? Please clarify how you arrived at these numbers, so we may inform our nearly 2 million monthly visitors of your report and explain the findings referenced above.
[UPDATE: August 10, 2005, 3:11pm: We have received a response from Consumer Reports:
The survey data on computer infections contrast Macs with Windows-based PCs, but it would be beyond the scope of the project to evaluate specific versions of each operating system. Our conclusion that Macs have been less prone to viruses and spyware is based on a nationally representative sample. The methodology and findings were vetted by our engineers, technical writers, and survey experts. We are proud to convey this important information for our readers. Whether some versions of each platform are, and will continue to be, more secure is a matter of conjecture.
Regarding any potential confusion between spyware and virus infection, we operationalized the questions to make the distinction clear to the non-expert. Still, any potential confusion between spyware and virus infections would affect both Mac and Windows statistics.
MacDailyNews Take: Thanks so much for clearing that up. So, Consumer Reports readers will come away with the notion that if they walk into an Apple Store to buy a Mac today, they have a 20% chance of “detecting” a virus (how many will read that as a chance of being infected with a virus?) and an 8% chance of being infected with spyware. The facts that there are currently zero (0) Mac OS X viruses and zero (0) cases of reported Mac OS X spyware infections seems to be lost in translation, doesn’t it? Are Consumer Reports serving their readers the best they can in this case? We recommend that you if you must read Consumer Reports, read it with a grain of salt.]
Consumer Reports contact info:
Lauren Hackett: email@example.com
Alberto G. Rojas: firstname.lastname@example.org
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