Live Dangerously, Go Online

Even Danger Mouse fears the Internet.

Not long ago, I bought a new computer and gave my wife my the old one to use around the house.  She used it primarily for email and online shopping.

My wife isn’t very technical (the understatement of understatements).  So when she kept getting bothered with pop-up reminders to update the computer’s security software, she didn’t understand what they were and just deleted them.  So she didn’t realize that our subscription had come to an end.

Within a few hours (could it actually have been that long?), the computer was invaded by a rather nasty virus.  It ran rampant through the operating system and shut everything down.

Needless to say, I had to buy her another computer.  The old one is now junk.

It was an expensive reminder.

With all the continued excitement about the endless possibilities for business, culture and individuals on the Internet – from the launch of the iPad to the amazing growth of social networks like Facebook and Twitter – it is important to remember one crucial point about the Web.

It remains a very dangerous place.

Take a look at these sobering statistics:

  • There are about 148,000 zombie computers created each day.  A zombie computer is when a hacker takes over a user’s computer without their knowledge to send out spam messages, attack other computers or do other malicious and illegal activities over the Internet.  TechWeb reported recently that one hacker had a network of zombie computers of more than 1.5 million.
  • There were more than 2.6 million attacks by trojans, viruses and other malicious code at the start of 2009, according to security company McAfee.
  • Spyware and computer viruses cost users more than $7.8 billion in 2006, according to the Washington Post.  This forced more than one million households to have to replace their computers.
  • There are 247 billion emails being sent globally every day – and 200 billion of those missives are spam, a whopping 81 percent of all email messages, according to McAfee (another security company CommTouch put the percentage of spam messages at 83 percent).
  • In 2006, the revenues from online pornography topped $97 billion, according to TopTenReviews (twice the annual revenue of Apple).  A new pornography site was being created in the U.S. every 39 minutes and more than $3,000 was being spent on online pornography consumption every second.
  • In 2001, it was estimated that there were more than 100,000 web sites on the web dedicated to disseminating child pornography, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. That number has been said to have grown by more than 1,500 percent by 2008.
  • 10 million people were the victims of identity theft in 2008, according to the Javelin Strategy & Research Center.  The cost to correct identity theft for the victim is about $500.

The message here, of course, isn’t to avoid the Internet.  That’s not even a real possibility for many companies or individuals anymore.  The Internet is where commerce and business deals are getting done.  It’s a place were information is accessed, shared and used in buying decisions.  It is where we play.  It is where we learn.

The message is: Be careful.

There’s an illusion of safety when you’re exploring the web from your office, your mobile device or from home.  You are surrounded by the familiar and in a comfortable setting.  But every time you launch your browser and go online you are no longer in your office.  You are in the wide-open virtual world that has its shady, dangerous areas filled with con men, criminals and bullies.

A healthy dose of caution and skepticism is one way to avoid becoming one of the statistics above.

And of course to keep your security software updated.

How about you?  Any web horror stories you’d like to share?

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