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The Internet is well on its way to becoming one vast bot net, a survey by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance suggests.

Researchers interviewed, and examined the computers of, 329 volunteers. They found that nearly all Windows PCs are infected with some form of malware, and that a majority of users are unaware of the simplest security basics, such as the difference between anti-virus software and a firewall, for instance.

Most users had antivirus software installed, presumably because it's usually preloaded on OEM boxes, but two thirds had not bothered to update their virus siggies in the preceding week. One poor victim had 92 viruses on their PC, and another an incredible 1,059 spyware/adware progies.

Two thirds of users had no firewall or packet filter, and 14 per cent of those who had them had misconfigured them. And only nine per cent had any sort of parental controls in place.

Half of wireless users employed MAC filtering to prevent connection freeloading, while 60 per cent used WEP to encrypt their signals.

Nevertheless, almost three quarters of those surveyed reported believing that their PC is very secure or moderately secure. Somehow, the message isn't getting through. Unless, of course, the message that is getting through is the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing message, and it's led people to overconfidence.

The National Cyber Security Alliance says that users need more education, and encouragement to take more responsibility for their own cyber security, and, by extension, the collective security of the Net.

But this seems to be blaming the victim. They might perhaps just deserve better software. ®

Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a comprehensive guide to system hardening, malware protection, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux.

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