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Bang! And the bloatware is gone

If we want a safer internet, we need to get serious about educating web users about PC security. And it can't be left to commercial considerations.

Health officials recently reported rising levels of measles infections. Years of fear and misinformation about the MMR vaccine caused a critical drop off in uptake, and now the damned spots have managed to get an itchy foothold.

You can't blame parents for wanting the best for their kids, but for immunisation to work a critical mass of the population has to consent to the pin cushion treatment. On a scientific level at least, vaccination is much more of a collective responsibility than a personal right.

A similar sentiment is the key to a healthy internet. Want to work, transact and play online? Then your duty is to make the web a nasty place to be for digital scumbags. You need to make like virtual Cillit Bang.

The price you pay is the cost of an up to date internet security setup. Cybercrime thrives only where it can. If you and your net neighbours are doing the right thing, online thugs will find something else to do with their time. Tipping cows, or watching Jeremy Kyle or something.

It's not much to ask, is it? And yet Get Safe Online's 2008 report suggests that 15 percent of internet-connected computers have no security software at all, and 48 percent of those that do failed to update what they had in the past month. Thirty-six percent of internet users report being victim of a virus attack - and that's those who know it's happened.

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During a recent family visit I was (of course) co-opted into 'fixing' a PC. Even in its near-dead state, the system was connecting to the household Wi-Fi without its owner's knowledge or permission, but capable of little else. And security software? It had only an out-of-date Norton trial (as did the several other PCs on the network).

Once I'd stopped ranting, I asked my sane, intelligent brethren why they hadn't at least purchased a licence when the trial ran out and they were warned to do so? The various answers boil down to one salient point: modern PCs come drenched in bloat-, ad- and crapware.

PCs are consumer electronics now, and the great unwashed expect them to work out of the box. They also expect to be bombarded with adverts and offers for products they don't need. A message warning them to update their security setup gets lost in the crowd, and in the post-Vista world, Windows is only too keen to reassure users that it alone can take care of security. It can't. (Not until to-Morro, anyway.)

Internet security is too important to be left to commercial considerations. Vendors, manufacturers and ISPs need to take a more proactive approach to user education: customers most not be allowed to leave the showroom without a working knowledge of internet security.

And for all of our sakes, we need to find a cure for the bloatware epidemic.

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