Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
18 August 2005

The American consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports recently published a online hazards survey which found:

  • 33% of those surveyed said a virus or spyware caused serious problems with their computer systems and/or financial losses within the past two years.
  • 50% reported a spyware infection in the past six months. Of those, 18% said the infection was so bad they had to erase their hard drives.

    To avoid spyware, 51% of all online users reported being more careful visiting Web sites, and 38 % said they download free programs less frequently.

  • 64% of survey respondents said they had detected viruses on their computer in the past two years. 4% found them at least 50 times.
  • Macs are safer than Windows PCs for some online hazards. Only 20% of Mac owners surveyed reported detecting a virus in the past two years, compared with 66% of Windows PC owners. Just 8% of Mac users reported a spyware infection in the last six months vs. 54% of Windows PC users.

To this I would add that my guess is that a fair amount of the virus reporting by Mac owners is probably "false positives" – people whose Macs stopped working for some unrelated reason and they blamed it on viruses. Ditto for spyware. I don’t think viruses or spyware aimed at current Macs are still around outside of the labs of anti-virus software companies.

There are some good recommendations linked alongside the report but interestingly it fails to mention one of the best ways to reduce the incidence of viruses and spyware – don’t use Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer. It’s not that they are bad in themselves (though I would argue the free alternatives like Eudora and Firefox are better) – it’s that virus and spyware writers tailor their programs to work with the most popular email and web browsing programs out there.

A note about computer literacy – 17% of respondents weren’t using antivirus software and 10% of those with high-speed broadband access–prime targets for hackers–said they didn’t have firewall protection.

Also see two recent reports from the excellent Pew Internet and American Life project:
Spam & Phishing (April)
Spyware (July)


  1. Interesting. I think I’ve had two virus infections in the last few years, and one of them was at work, on the internal network, on an unpatched machine with no virus scanner :-).

    But I’m an outlier; not only am I computer literate, I’m also a computer security expert. I have a firewall, and every machine has a virus checker and a spyware checker. And on top of that, I maintain separate computers for my children, so that when they play online games and download stuff I can repave their machines without it affecting mine.

    What, paranoid? Me? naaaahh…

    Comment by Harald — 18 August 2005 @ 2:12 pm

  2. I used to catch a lot of spyware and crap but now I run every day my anti spyware before i play my games. I learned my lesson!


    Comment by Pol - internet computer gamer guy — 21 April 2007 @ 6:51 am

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