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How safe are your computer habits?

How safe are your computer habits?

A new Microsoft survey looks at the safety and security precautions we take and advises how we can be more secure online

For every Dr.Jekyll there's aMr.Hyde. The internet is no different; whilst it brings enormous benefits, using it safely means recognising and managing risks. The Internet is a part of our everyday life, with social networking activity accounting for approximately 20 per cent of all Internet traffic1,soa better understanding of how to stay safe online will help everyoneexperience the Internet more securely.

As part of Safer Internet Day, an annual event organised by Insafe, a European Commission initiative to raise internet safety awareness, Microsoft hasreleased theMicrosoft Computing Safety Index (MCSI), a survey of the computer security habits of usersin 27 countries2, providing one of the most complete views yet of the collective attitude to online safety.

More than 11,000 computer users answered questions about the steps they take to stay safe online, and points were awarded for each answer to arrive at a total MCSI score out of a maximum of 100. The average MCSI score across all 27 countries was 44. Not bad, but clearly there's room for improvement.

Analysis of the research data shows that in some areas, consumers practise good internet security. For example, 78 per cent of those questioned employ some kind of basic online security, such as a firewall, anti-virus software or strong passwords using a mix of upper and lower case letters and numbers and symbols.However, the research also shows that awareness of how cybercriminals are becoming increasingly devious in their attempts to deceive and trick people out of money and valuable information is much lower. To help mark Safer Internet Day here are five tips for staying safe on the web and looking after your online reputation.

1. Safer social networking

Unsurprisingly,the biggest growth area for online security issues is social networking and yet 56 per cent of respondents do not teach themselves about how to prevent identity theft and 73 per cent fail to find out about the latest guidance for protecting their online reputation.

How can I stay safer? Like any other area of your digital world, make sure your social networking accounts are protected by a strong password (containing lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols. Don't click on a link unless you have some idea of where it will take you. And be aware of which personal details you are sharing online. You can find out more here.

2. Protect your online reputation

Ten years ago, few people had a digital identity. Now many of us have web pages, blogs, social media profiles and numerous photographs and videos posted online.

How can I stay safe? The MCSI survey reveals that only half of us change our social media privacy settings. Take a look at your online profiles and ask yourself 'do I really want anyone to have access to this information?' Periodically re-evaluate who might be looking at your online profiles; perhaps you need to increase your privacy settings? More information on how to protect yourself online can be found here.

3. Identity theft

Professional criminals are out there looking to steal and take advantage of an individual's personal details, from a name and address to a date of birth or passport number.

How can I stay safe? According to the MCSI survey, over a third (39 per cent) of us have never attempted to find out how to better protect our online reputation or prevent and correct identify theft. Be careful what you share online — seemingly harmless details could be just what ascammerneedsto compromise your identity.

4. Whether PC, mobile or tablet, don't run up a fever over computer viruses

Yes the 'classic' computer virus is still a threat, despite anti-virus softwaremaking it difficult for most viruses to cause serious damage. With only 57 percent of users running regular updates or enabling automatic virus definition updates, the clear message here is to keep all of your software fully updated. You're only as safe as your last security update.

How can I stay safe? You guessed it: stay up to date.Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and if you haven't already done so, consider turning on the automatic update setting on Windows.Mobile devices are increasingly popular ways of accessing the Internet —smartphone usage reached 27 per cent in 20113 – but only 18 per cent of users have installed anti-virus or spyware software on their mobile phones. Scammers haven't ignored this technology as a new opportunity for criminal activity, so make sure you're protected.

5. How old are you?

According to the survey, older generations tend to be less aware of online security, especially social networking safety. Additionally, the survey found only 23 per cent of parents edit online information about themselves, compared to 41 per cent of non-parents.

How can I stay safe? The key to a safer online experience is education. No matter what your age, you're never too young or too old to investigate the best ways to be more secure. Choose a strong password (not your birthday or pet's name) and avoid clicking on links that look suspicious or are posted by people you don't trust.

Everybody has some awareness of the need to be safe and secure online, and while the MCSI survey shows many of us take some form of precaution, there is still room for greater awareness and education. Following these basic tips will help you to be safer and more secure online.

• Update anti-virus and anti-spyware software regularly and use automatic updates for Windows and all other software. Where possible, use the latest version of Windows (Windows 7) and Internet Explorer (IE9).

• Keep a firewall activated at all times.

• When using Wi-Fi, be sure to connect usingonly secure wireless networks.

• Be aware of the personal information you share online and adjust your privacy settings if required. Make sure you are aware when your device is using your location data or making this data available to others.

• Create strong passwords of at least eight characters or more. Use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols, and try to use different passwords for each online account.

• Protect yourself from phishingemail scams. Be sure that any email requesting personal or financial details is from a genuine, trusted company. Suspicious mails often contain misspellings and grammatical errors or make unusual claims. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Average MCSI scores by country

Average Index Score

EMEA 44.20

Country Average Index Score

Austria 45.21

Belgium 45.53

Bosnia 36.49

Brazil 40

Czech Republic 49.39

Denmark 46.63

Finland 49.53

France 27

Germany 32

Greece 45.12

Ireland 46.08

Israel 44.85

Italy 39.31

Kazakhstan 43.57

Lithuania 45.04

Malta 60.59

Montenegro 37.99

Netherlands 42.77

Norway 46.48

Poland 39.92

Portugal 44.29

Russia 43.08

Slovakia 53.76

Slovenia 43.08

Spain 41.44

Sweden 42.23

Ukraine 46.69

Interpreting the MCSI

0-19. Get Back to Basics – A score in this range indicates users may not be taking advantage of the most basic—and oftentimes free—protections available.

20-79. Take It Up a Notch – Scores in this broad range suggest users have the basics covered, but opportunities exist to learn about new and emerging threats, particularly in the social realm.

80-100. Stay the Course – A score in this range shows users are well-aware of the various threats—both existing and emerging—as well as the steps necessary to help guard against them.



2. The Microsoft Computing Safety Index was conducted via online surveys on local MSN and other Microsoft websites across 27 markets, including Austria, Belgium, Portugal, France, Germany, Finland, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Russia, Slovakia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Greece, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Malta, Ukraine, Israel and Brazil. There were over 11,100 total respondents across all markets.