Spread the word: vigilance is key

24 Nov 2005

Nobody can accuse the Make IT Secure campaign of being a lone voice. Now in its second year, the campaign has the backing of a heavyweight consortium that comprises public and private organisations. Last year’s partner, back on board, is the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources along with Microsoft, Dell, Symantec, BT Ireland, Eircom and Ward Solutions. Swelling their ranks are the Irish Bankers’ Federation, Vodafone, the National Centre for Technology in Education, the Internet Advisory Board (IAB) and RTÉ.

Their aim is simple — to educate and raise public awareness of IT security at home and work. When the Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD called this year’s campaign “particularly strong” in its combination of public and private groups, it was more than just platitudes. The Garda Síochána was represented at the launch last week, as was staff from IAB’s Hotline.ie website for reporting suspected cases of online child pornography.

Child safety online is one of the key focus areas of the current initiative. Research conducted by Amárach Consulting for the campaign found that almost one in four parents has not discussed the potential dangers of internet use with their children. Moreover, 74pc of parents said they did not use any software to control or restrict their children’s internet access.

Public awareness of some of the newly emerging IT security threats is also low, the research indicated. Only 13pc of respondents said they had a good understanding of the term phishing, 19pc understand what identity theft is and 24pc know what spyware is.

The findings, as if by design, delighted and frustrated in equal measure: for every sign of progress there was a knock-back. For example, 79pc of home users and 75pc of work users said they use antivirus software. However, only 28pc of home users said they updated their antivirus software within the past week. Although it’s an improvement on last year’s figure (18pc), it leaves a lot of people who don’t take such precautions. One in three respondents at home and work said they don’t know or can’t remember when they last updated their antivirus.

The minister emphasised that, as essential as the campaign’s message is, it’s not intended to scare people. “It is important that these types of statistics don’t deter people from using computers or surfing the internet, as these are now invaluable tools for business, leisure, education and communication,” he said.

But the numbers make clear, to borrow the well-worn political catchphrase, that there’s “a lot done, more to do”. As long as people haven’t got the message, this campaign will still be necessary. Encouragingly, last year’s campaign generated awareness levels among the public that compared very favourably with other public initiatives. This year alone, the Make IT Secure website clocked up 1.4 million hits since January, suggesting that people are using it as a resource even when it isn’t the subject of a major marketing and advertising push.

This year, an extensive round of publicity saw the distribution of 1.2 million information booklets, along with print, radio advertising and various seminars and events held around the country. The 2005 campaign received a significant boost as RTÉ donated airtime for the TV adverts, including some high-profile slots that the Make IT Secure organisers said would help to promote the message to an even wider audience.

Next month the work begins to see how many more people understand the issues and have taken them to heart. Follow-up research will determine how the message was received and understood and the campaign’s future focus will be tailored accordingly.

By Gordon Smith