Survey finds gap between perceived and actual IT security

DHS cyber security "czar" says each person must take "reasonable precautions" to protect their corner of cyberspace.

A survey released Monday to mark cyber-security awareness month in October shows that consumers are aware of security risks online, but there is a big gap in what they have done versus what they think they have done to protect themselves.

A McAfee survey found that 93 percent of people surveyed believe they have virus protection on their computers, but 48 percent have expired anti-virus programs. Another 61 percent think they have protection against unsolicited commercial e-mails, and computer checks showed that 21 percent did. Just 12 percent had software to combat "phishing" scams that use phony e-mails and Web sites, even though 27 percent thought they did.

"What we learned from the study is we've done a good job increasing awareness," said Bari Abdul, the vice president of consumer marketing for McAfee. But he said consumers need to better understand their real levels of protection and the threats their computers face.

Panelists at a national security awareness summit on Monday said the issue is important because weak security -- whether it's a person, business or government agency -- can affect everyone. Greg Garcia, the cyber security "czar" for the Homeland Security Department, said each person must take "reasonable precautions" to protect their corner of cyberspace.

A survey of business leaders released by the Business Roundtable showed that the private sector, which controls 80 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure, is not fully prepared for cyber threats, either. Tom Lehner, a security policy director at the group, said businesses are not fully aware of their dependence on the Internet, and they could use better real-time information on threats and analysis on trends that could grow into bigger threats.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team had 37,000 reports of security incidents last year, compared with 24,000 the year before. Michael Witt, the deputy director of CERT, said 1 million users are now receiving CERT alerts as they are released. He also warned executives that their corporations are "highly likely" to be involved in some type of incident.

Witt said one problem is how little some businesses spend on security. He also said in some cases equipment is so old that data patches are not available for security fixes.

Garcia said the jump in security incidents for CERT shows an increase in both attacks and reporting, and the numbers will not grow smaller. He added that better cyber security is "something we can't afford not to do."

"It's vital to national security, public safety and economic prosperity," Garcia said.

Richard Pethia, the director of CERT's software engineering institute at Carnegie Mellon University, said CERT offers 400,000 hours in online security training in bite-sized packages. He said cyber crime is growing because the Internet has boosted productivity for the bad guys, too. "It makes them more efficient," Pethia said.

He said another big problem is that the Justice Department does not have enough online forensic investigators to bring charges against cyber criminals. "A lot of cases are being thrown out of court because the government can't do the investigation fast enough," Pethia said.