HOME Technology Nov 2006
Protection not optional
Net threats escalating
While most computers now come with adequate anti-virus and security software a myriad of new bugs continue to be released into the wild looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, and as the latest research implies, no browser is safe.

As broadband uptake in New Zealand increases the speed at which we cruise around cyberspace and the risks from browsing, downloading, emailing and participating in social networks are also escalating.

Like the real world, cyberspace has its red light districts and risky neighbourhoods where viruses, Trojans, spyware, netbots and a host of other malware lurk, seeking to exploit vulnerabilities.

The major anti-viral and security companies are now alerting consumers and businesses about their latest solutions. Computer Associates, McAfee, Symantec, Trend Micro, BitDefender and others, are now pushing their 2007 software including a year of ‘live updates’ for between $80 –- $130.

They pledge to be more intuitive with less interruption to our daily lives through their safer surfing suites. These include firewalls to keep potential invaders out, antivirus software to detect and eliminate viral threats, spam filters to safeguard us from the modern equivalent of junk mail, and tools to take the hook out of phishing attempts to acquire login, password and other sensitive personal information.

Security company McAfee, says the quickest way to become infected with malware is a celebrity search. A growing number of search phrases on Google and other engines take users directly to malware sites. It claims celebrity websites are now the most unsafe places to visit, with porn and screen-saver websites now the second and third rated danger zones.

McAfee reckons malware is growing exponentially with over 4000 variants of 450 types of threat discovered by August 2006, compared with only 45 types between 2000 - 2002. It says the sheer volume of rubbish is literally becoming a turn off for many internet users. Its free SiteAdvisor download, which glows red and pops up a warning bubble when you’re heading into the danger zone, can help with safe surfing.

BitDefender, also has a suite of products to ward off threats and has been commended for its speed in malware detection, specifically its function that allows parents to clearly state time frames when their children cannot surf the web.

Meanwhile Geoff Cossey, managing director Chillisoft, warns a change in the way internet threats are delivered is catching many traditional anti-virus companies off-guard. He says a new breed of malicious threats is being pitched at internet users at lightening speed, and the damage is done before traditional packages even have time to identify them.

Cossey says the e-security revolution is now focusing on anticipating threats before they’re released, using heuristics, which recognise suspicious behaviour in real time, blocking activity from unknown malware before its can do damage. He says a new breed of software, including Chillisoft’s Eset NOD32 is meeting the challenge.

Meanwhile Microsoft is promising better security in its new Vista operating system, due for release in January next year. However, it is locked in a legal battle over its planned use of Patch Guard, which stops third party security or antivirus company’s from updating or interacting with its system files.

The new windows Security Dashboard will attempt to handle most of user security needs, potentially alienating major security vendors who’ve tried to plug the gaps in the past. The reality is these players will have to get smarter and find a way to work with Microsoft if they want to retain their slice of the burgeoning security business.

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