Home users threaten enterprises

Home users' lack of security knowledge is threatening enterprise and government networks, according to a new survey.

Most Americans worry about hackers using their home computers to attack others. But they lack a general understanding of security, putting enterprises at risk, according to a Bentley College study.

"Everyone who connects to the Internet has the potential to do damage to businesses and government organizations," said Mary Culnan, a Bentley professor and lead researcher for the study. "Consumers aren't someone else's problem. They're everyone's problem. Companies have a huge responsibility to educate employees on safe computing at home, whether they telecommute or not. And everyone we surveyed said they want more education on security threats and best practices."

The Waltham, Mass.-based institution teamed up with New York-based Harris Interactive Inc. to conduct the survey, funded by antivirus firm Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif. They polled 2,952 U.S. adults between July 8 and 13. While 85% of respondents agreed adopting security measures for their home PC can help prevent it from being infected by a virus, nearly half -- 44% -- responded "no" or "not sure" when asked if their ISP had provided information about how security tools can protect their home computer. Of those employed full- or part-time, 66% said their employers have not provided any Internet security training.

"Our survey shows that people are not knowledgeable about current threats," Culnan said. "ISPs, employers and academia are in an ideal situation to help educate consumers."

Of those surveyed:

  • 90% have installed antivirus software, but 10% never or rarely update it;
  • 30% lack knowledge about computer viruses;
  • 40% lack knowledge about spyware;
  • 49% lack knowledge about security flaws in Internet browsers; and
  • 44% lack knowledge about hackers' ability to hijack home computers and use them to send spam.

Respondents were evenly split on the appropriate public policy approach to home PC security:

  • 32% think companies in the computer industry should develop voluntary measures to ensure home computers are secure;
  • 56% prefer that security software updates be automatically installed by manufacturers or ISPs; and
  • 35% think the government should pass laws that would require the computer industry to implement measures to ensure all home computers are secure.

The survey also found:

  • 48% are rarely sure or are unsure that sensitive information is encrypted before transmitting it over the Internet;
  • 59% are concerned hackers might harm American corporations or the government by breaking into their computers; and
  • 70% are concerned hackers might use home computers to spread a virus over the Internet that harms other computers.

With a growing number of employees working on laptops from home, Culnan said enterprises are increasingly threatened. "When people are working at home and their computers are infected, their computers are often used to launch attacks on other companies and government agencies. This survey should serve as a wake-up call."

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