According to the report, several major online threats—spam, spyware, and virus infections—have declined significantly over the past few years.
Online threats are still of great concern, according to their research and national survey of 2,071 online households conducted this past spring by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Consider these findings:
- The odds of becoming a cybervictim have dropped to 1 in 6, from 1 in 4 last year. Still, American consumers lost almost $8.5 billion and replaced about 2.1 million computers because of viruses, spyware, and e-mail scams over the two years the survey covered, we estimate.
- Phishing—sending authentic-looking but fraudulent e-mail designed to steal sensitive personal information—is still a serious concern. About 6.5 million consumers, or roughly 1 in 13 online households, gave such scammers personal information over the past two years. Fourteen percent of them lost money.
- There’s still plenty of spam out there. One of the newest types, cell-phone spam, is a minor nuisance to most online homes, our survey found. Still, 1.2 million people nationwide received more than 25 such messages each during a recent six-month period, we estimate.
- Government is one of the biggest culprits compromising consumers’ security. Our investigation found that recent lapses by federal, state, and local government have resulted in the loss or exposure of at least 44 million consumer records containing sensitive personal information. (See ID leaks.)
- Many consumers continue with risky online behaviors, including failing to maintain security software on their PCs. Our new tests of free and commercial security software found most products to be very good, though some suites offered less-thorough protection. Suites and stand-alone software that claim to flag phishing sites varied in effectiveness.
The report also found spotty performance for some anti-phishing toolbars that are built into suites and integrated into browsers.
For optimal protection, the report recommends that users consider BitDefender, $50. CR’s tests revealed it was consistently very good in performance and fairly rich in features, including the best variety of antivirus tools of the high-rated suites. McAfee’s Internet Security Suite with SiteAdvisor, $50, is a fine choice for a newer computer. It performed comparably to BitDefender and is among the most effective against spam and phishing.
The best programs tested this year detected 80 percent or more of the tested threats and updated their databases within a day or two to detect all the actual threats. The worst program allowed 60 percent or more of the modified viruses to slip by and had not detected most of the actual threats by the end of the test period.
Although Macs are far less vulnerable to viruses and spyware, they can transmit infected files to Windows users. Because CR’s survey found that Mac owners are as likely as Windows users to become victims of phishing, they should use at least one anti-phishing tool.