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The UK government launched an official virus alert site yesterday. ITsafe is designed to help home users and small businesses use the net more safely through a combination of free advice and threat alerts about risks such as fast-spreading computer viruses. Users can sign up to receive alerts by either text or email.

The service is funded by the Home Office and uses information provided by the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) - the Government’s centre for electronic defence. An estimated 13m UK homes have net access. As professional cyber criminals have turned their attention towards exploiting security weaknesses in the consumer market to distribute spam or in phishing attacks the need for an IT security advice site has grown.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: "There is a clear need for easy-to-understand and simple independent advice for non-technically minded people who use computers either at home or at work. The purpose of this new Government service is to ensure computer users are aware of the risks involved and how to deal with them easily and effectively without causing alarm."

Worthy aims but early reaction to the site from Reg readers suggests considerable scope for improvement. "Apart from the fact it looks like it took all of five minutes to design and contains approximately nothing of use, the email sign-up service doesn't even send a confirmation email that you really did ask to subscribe," said Reg reader Simon Li. "A search for 'security' http://www.itsafe.gov.uk/cgi-bin/search.cgi?query=security manages to turn up threats such as 'clip art' and 'blog'."

Doubtless these problems will be ironed out over time. The UK initiative is similar in aims to the US National Cyber Security Alliance's StaySafeOnline. ®

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