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February 2, 2012

Govt “must do more” to help people stay safe online

Report says raising awareness of online threats is key and urges govt to set up advice centre for citizens to check their IT hygiene

By Vinod

The UK government must do more to protect the public from online threats such as malware, according to a report by a group of MPs.

The report from the Science and Technology Select Committee specifically mentions malware that is designed steal bank details and identity information as posing a growing threat in the UK.

The Committee said MPs must do more to educate the public about staying safe online. This includes calling on the government to, "Launch a prolonged awareness raising campaign to increase public understanding of personal online security."

Most online threats can be tackled with what the report calls routine IT hygiene, but there is no single point of advice for users and much of the help available online is "technical or jargon filled," the report claims.

One suggestion is for the government to work with ISPs to set up online database of malware and other threats that the public can access to determine whether their machine has been infected and what to do to clean it up if it has.

MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee said the Get Safe Online website would be a good place for this service to be hosted.

That site should also be promoted more widely, the report says, and education should be offered through TV exposure. "Knowledge is the best defence against fear, so the Government should focus on raising awareness of how to stay safe online – rather than scaring people about the dangers of cyber crime," said Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

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"Despite the increasing use of malware, the internet is still a reasonably safe place to go about one’s business, provided users take a few sensible precautions," he added. "Government departments need to realise that better public information about computer safety could save huge numbers of people the hassle of having their personal details stolen."

"In response to this report, we are asking the Government to provide details of how they intend to engender greater trust in online products and services within the UK population. We are also demanding an assurance that the ‘digital by default’ approach will mean better and more secure, rather than merely cheaper, government services," he added.

Graham Cluley of security firm Sophos said the findings of the reports are "encouraging".

"I strongly believe that greater awareness and education regarding internet threats is an essential part of fighting the problem, and it’s encouraging to see the committee’s report not only back this idea, but also to recommend that messages need to be customised carefully for the different generations of people using the net," he wrote.

"A key challenge, however, is that Get Safe Online and other similar resources, tend to be known about only by those already involved in IT security, rather than the average person in the street. Frankly, that’s preaching to the converted. The only way to change this is by a properly funded broad awareness campaign," Cluley said.

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