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Busy or apathetic employees are accelerating the spread of viruses and potentially costing UK businesses millions in clean-up charges, according to a survey out today.

Two-thirds of the 1,000 people quizzed by market researchers TNS in January admit they are not aware of even the most basic virus prevention measures. Meanwhile a third of those polled in the Novell-sponsored study said they are too busy to check their emails before opening them.

Depressingly, nine in ten of the workers quizzed believe that have no part to play in preventing the spread of viruses, preferring to leave responsibility to "their IT department, Microsoft or the government".

Where does Novell find these lunk heads? UK office workers, that's who.

Even allowing for the fact the survey took place in the first two weeks of January - before the ongoing MyDoom pandemic - one would think that most people would have a fair idea of what a virus-infected email might look like. Not so - two thirds of the respondents to the survey said they didn't have a clue.

Over one third of UK workers quizzed feel overwhelmed by the number of emails they get and a third claim to be too busy to check emails before opening them. One in five people surveyed said they are "too busy to download anti-virus updates".

Any sensible admin should implement procedures to automate this process, but even so it's yet another sad indictment of the limitations of the AV scanner approach.

The report reveals that workers are blasé about the possibility of aiding and abetting virus attacks on company systems. Even though 62 per cent of UK workers rate viruses as the number one security risk, over half say that they would “not be particularly bothered” if they encountered an attack and only five per cent said they would be worried if they personally had spread the virus.

UK workers are just as lax about other aspects of security, the survey found.

A third of employees quizzed write their computer passwords down to help them remember and one in ten keeps them on a Post-It note on their desk. More than half (55 per cent) of those quizzed base their passwords on people's names, making them far easier to guess.

The vast majority were unaware of the dangers of phishing whilst more than half (58 per cent) of respondents regularly forward spam to friends and colleagues without thinking.

Steve Brown, managing director of Novell UK, commented: “UK workers, who through lack of time, technology know-how or care, put their business at risk by making basic security errors. People are highly aware of the dangers posed by viruses but don’t take any personal responsibility for minimising risks.

"Unless UK businesses start to take end user education seriously, we are going to see the impact of cyber crime spiral in 2004.” ®

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