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Home Users See Spyware and Viruses Through Rose-Colored Glasses

People who believe their PCs are free of malware that can track their computer usage or gain control over their machines are most likely wrong.

A study by America Online Inc. and the National Cyber Security Alliance found that most computer users believe they're safe from viruses, spyware and adware, when in fact their machines are infected with some form of malicious code. Even worse, computer users' false sense of security has led the majority of them to store sensitive personal information, like health and financial records, in their machines without adequate protection.

The study, based on in-person interviews and technical analyses with 329 dial-up and broadband computer users, indicates that typical consumers don't understand the threats they face online, and are ignorant about the software tools available to protect them.

The numbers from the study are grim. More than 3 in 4 computer users believe they are safe from online threats, yet researchers found that 80 percent of computers analyzed were infected with spyware, which is any software that secretly gathers user information through their Internet connection. Spyware is planted in a computer unbeknownst to the user, and is often used for advertising purposes. However, it can also be used to try to steal passwords used in online banking or other Internet accounts.

Ken Watson, NCSA president, said he was surprised at the huge gap between perception and reality among respondents.

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