Internet Users More Savvy About Security, Study Finds

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By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Web users, beset with problems from spyware and viruses, are starting to wise up online. A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that online users are trying harder to steer clear of trouble on the Web.

In Pew's study ( http://www.pewinternet.org/ ), 90 percent of users said that they have changed their online behavior to avoid malignant software and 81 percent said that they stopped opening e-mail attachments unless they are sure the documents are safe.

And, in what appears to be a bit of good news for Web browsers that aren't named Internet Explorer, a surprising 18 percent of users said they have started using other browsers because of security concerns.

If people are altering their habits on the Web, it looks like that's because many have learned the hard way. Nearly half of the users polled said that they have been hit by spyware, surreptitious programs that snoop around on a victim's computer, or adware, equally hidden programs that display unsolicited ads.

Fewer Web surfers opening virus-bearing attachments would seem to be a good thing -- if more Web users resist the urge to click on that "Kournikova" or "Britney" attachment in their e-mail, the Web might not come to a screeching halt at every virus attack. (Viruses, along with spyware and adware, attack almost exclusively Windows computers, but users of other operating systems still suffer side effects such as having their inboxes overflow with virus attachments.)

It also appears that the days when Web surfers recklessly trolled the Internet looking for weird sites and downloading willy-nilly may be fading into the distance: One of the Washington-based nonprofit's conclusions in the report is that "the threat of unwanted software programs is making people more cautious online."

Pew's numbers are based on a sample of 2,001 adult Web users in the United States.

An Unnerving Blog

Internet gawkers flooded to a site that had been run by convicted sex offender Joseph E. Duncan III this week. Duncan was arrested this week in the kidnapping of 9-year-old Dylan Groene and 8-year-old Shasta Groene from their Idaho home; the North Dakota man is also suspected of murder in the case.

Called the Fifth Nail, Duncan's blog is chilling stuff. "The demons have taken over," he wrote in a posting made days before the kidnapping. Duncan also complained about having to register as a sex offender -- a situation he compared to being like a minority under Nazi Germany.

Since Duncan's arrest, the site has been filled with thousands of ill-wishers registering grief and disgust at the man's alleged crimes. "I hope they have the death penalty in your State," reads a typical entry. "Either way you're a dead man."

http://fifthnail.blogspot.com/

Amazon Preps Birthday Candles

Amazon.com is hitting its 10th anniversary this month and launching into a series to promote and mark the milestone. To celebrate the occasion, Amazon.com said it will randomly pick two customers and give them everything on their Amazon.com "wish list." The company also says it has surprise deliveries in the works, in which celebrities such as Harrison Ford and Claudia Schiffer will deliver Amazon.com purchases to unsuspecting customers.

http://www.amazon.com/

Google Goes for Firefox Users

Google released a new toolbar last week for the Mozilla Firefox Web browser. The new software, which runs in Firefox in Windows, Mac OS X and Red Hat Linux, gives users a shortcut to Google's various searches, spell-checking for text typed into Web forms, an "auto-fill" button to enter stored data such as delivery addresses, and a translator. It also includes Google's AutoLink, which turns certain types of Web text into clickable links (for example, transforming a street address so it points to a map of that location on Google Maps).

http://toolbar.google.com/firefox Leslie Walker is away. She will resume writing Web Watch when she returns.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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