Public awareness day to put security in the spotlight


21 Oct 2004

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A consortium of public and private organisations is spearheading a nationwide campaign to increase public awareness around information security. Wednesday 17 November has been designated as Make IT Secure day, centrepiece of a programme to inform users about how they can keep their PCs from being attacked or infected.

Several companies including Dell, Eircom, Esat BT, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Symantec are collaborating with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Information Society Commission on the initiative.

The announcement, made by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey TD, comes at a time when PC users are under threat from many sources. According to data from Symantec, there were four times as many viruses in the first half of this year than for the same period in 2003. Several of these viruses and worms exploit old flaws in operating systems (OSs) or web browsers, indicating that many users do not keep their systems well protected or up to date with software patches. Another growing security problem is spam or unsolicited commercial email, with some reports suggesting that it accounts for up to one third of email traffic in Ireland.

In addition, many internet users have fallen victim to modem hijacking, a criminal scam where a connection to the internet is rerouted to high-cost offshore destinations, unknown to the PC owner who is then left with large phone bills. Phishing attacks have also become common in the past year. These fraudulent emails attempt to trick users into revealing their banking details or codes online by posing as legitimate messages.

The consortium will give basic information to computer users to protect their systems, as well as encouraging them to be sensible when using email and browsing the internet. They will be advised to only visit trusted websites and to be suspicious of email from unknown users.

In the build up to a day of activity on 17 November, security advice and messages will be widely circulated through an extensive advertising, marketing, direct mail and public relations campaign. The consortium is currently working on producing a booklet with straightforward and simple information, written in a manner that is accessible for non-technical people. This will be distributed to more than 800,000 PC users in Ireland.

Further details of the planned events for 17 November will be announced over the next few weeks. A website launched specially for the campaign, www.makeITsecure.ie, is due to go live from 25 October and additional information will be posted there.

Minister Dempsey called Make IT Secure’ a “unique partnership approach” that would help to raise awareness about the issue of IT security. “We are calling on all PC users to: use an internet firewall; ensure that their OS is kept up to date and to use up-to-date antivirus software,” he said.

Conall Lavery, managing director of the security firm Entropy, welcomed the move as a positive development. “One of the major challenges of the security sector is that it doesn’t matter how good the products and technologies are, people are usually the weakest link in the chain,” he said. “Making them aware of what they should and shouldn’t do can help to make organisations more secure.”

Problems such as spam or pop-up windows are common, he added. “Both, by better user behaviour, can be reduced. Users should be careful about giving out their company email on certain websites and pop ups usually come from sites that are probably inappropriate to go to anyway.”

By Gordon Smith