RealTime IT News

Congress Raises Cyber Security Awareness

It may have escaped your attention, but October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

You can be forgiven since Congress only remembered it on Monday, overwhelmingly passing a resolution to raise the profile of U.S. computer security, particularly among consumers.

The non-profit National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a public-private partnership that includes computer companies and groups representing computer users, actually sponsors national Cyber Security Awareness Month. Its members include the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Trade Commission, Cisco , RSA Security and AOL.

The House resolution praises the NCSA's efforts and pledges Congress's support for "existing and future computer security voluntary consensus standards, practices and technologies."

Throughout October, the NCSA is holding weekly events across the country on specific cyber-security topics aimed at consumers, students, children, parents and educational institutions.

By the NCSA's own measure, raising cyber security awareness among consumers is a daunting task. According to a study conducted last year by the NCSA, consumers have a long way to go to reach any sort of standards.

In what the NCSA calls "one of the largest and most comprehensive in-home studies" ever conducted, the group found Americans woefully under-protected when they go online.

The survey found that the majority of consumers think they are safe online but lack basic protections against viruses, spyware, hackers and other threats. It also concluded that "large majorities of home computers" are infected and remain highly vulnerable to future infections.

In addition, 67 percent of home users do not have current antivirus software installed on their computers while 15 percent stated they have no antivirus protection at all.

Firewalls? Three in five users (58 percent) said they don't the difference between a firewall and anti-virus protection. Not surprisingly, 67 percent do not have any firewall protection at all.

Wireless? Almost two in five (38 percent) leave their connections completely open.

"Our increasing dependence on computers and computer networks exposes us to the risks of cyber attacks, viruses and hacking that have the potential to rob us of our personal identity, disrupt our economy, and undermine our national security," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in his floor statement Monday.

Smith added, "National Cyber Security Awareness Month is intended to focus the attention of all citizens on practices and technologies that they can use to protect themselves, and our national cyber infrastructure, while online."

NCSA officials said the results of this year's survey will be available in November.