Most U.S. consumers believe they're protecting their computers against cyberattacks, but their actions indicate they aren't as safe as they think, according to a study released Monday.
Eighty-seven percent of U.S. consumers surveyed believe they have antivirus protection installed on their computers, but scans of their systems found only 52 percent have antivirus software that's been updated in the last month, according to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee Inc. More than nine in 10 consumers surveyed said they believe their computers were protected from viruses.
In addition, 70 percent of U.S. consumers believe they have anitspyware software installed on their computers, but only 55 percent do, the study said. And 61 percent believe they have antispam software installed, but only 21 percent do.
"Consumers at this point in time have a false sense of security," said Bari Abdul, vice president of worldwide consumer marketing at McAfee. "What they say they have on their PC doesn't match with what they actually have."
Seventy-eight percent of computers McAfee scanned for the study did not have what Abdul called "core protection" -- a combination antivirus, antispyware and firewall software -- on their computers. The survey was conducted through e-mail invitations, and the 378 people who answered the survey allowed their computers to be scanned.
McAfee and NCSA, an educational group made up of U.S. government agencies and private companies, released the survey during a day-long event in Washington, D.C., to launch October as National Cyber Security Awareness Month.
During the event, Deborah Platt Majoras, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and Greg Garcia, assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, both encouraged private companies to work with government to educate consumers and organizations about the importance of cybersecurity defenses.
"Individual and enterprise cybersecurity are really two sides of the same coin," Garcia said. "It's not possible to have one without the other."
Majoras and Garcia said their agencies are both working hard to improve cybersecurity with efforts to educate consumers and businesses. One of the current problems that "drives me crazy," Majoras said, is phishing attacks, where people receive an e-mail that looks like it's from their bank, credit card or other business provider, asking the recipients to click a link to update their personal information.
The phishing problem would be largely fixed if more consumers were educated about the identity-theft scam, Majoras said.
In the McAfee/NCSA survey, 75 percent of respondents said they had heard of phishing, but only 54 percent of those could describe it accurately, Abdul said. Forty-four percent of respondents said they believe they have spyware or adware installed on their computers.
Nearly 90 percent of those who responded store personal information on their computers and conduct sensitive activities such as banking or stock trading online.
More education is needed, Abdul said. "It's extremely important to take this dialog to the next level," he added.