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Britons suffering more viruses now than two years ago

Viruses and phishing are affecting more Britons than two years ago, according to a major piece of research by Oxford University.

The Oxford Internet Institute's 2007 survey found that 34% of users believe their computer is infected with a virus, up from 18% in 2005 - although in 2003, this figure was 43%.

On phishing, 17% say they have been asked online for their bank details, up from 12% in 2005. Oxford Internet Institute did not ask this question in 2003. However, fewer people said they have received obscene or abusive e-mails, either from people they know (7%, compared with 20% in 2005) or from strangers (12%, compared with 20% two years ago).

The research indicated an increasing awareness of risks to privacy, with 84% of Britons believing that personal information is being kept on them somewhere without their knowledge, up from 66% in the 2005 survey. There was a similar rise, from 49% then to 66% now, in those feeling that "the present use of computers is a threat to personal privacy".

The research showed splits between users, who made up 66% of respondents, up from 61% in 2005 and 58% in 2003, and non-users of the internet on this subject. Non-users were slightly more likely to believe their personal information was being kept somewhere without their knowledge (88% against 83% for users), but much more likely to believe that that computers are a threat to personal privacy, 82% of non-users against 59% of users.

However, 64% of internet users were more likely to believe that "people should be able to express their opinions anonymously", against just 49% of non-users.

"There is some concern in some areas, but we also found on fraud through e-mail that people are more and more skilled in dealing with it," said Ellen Helsper, the project's co-ordinator. "So these concerns do not necessarily translate into more negative experiences." She also pointed out that privacy concerns may increasing for reasons not connected to the internet.

Respondents took a dim view of spam e-mail: on a scale from +1 (appropriate behaviour) to -1 (inappropriate behaviour), the average response was -0.8. However, there was much less condemnation of downloading music without payment, where the average response was -0.1: this was -0.4 for non-users, but a neutral zero for users, up from -0.2 in 2005.

Respondents were less accepting of downloading a book or article without payment, which scored -0.3 from all respondents, and gambling online - which outside the United States is usually legal, unlike downloading music - scored -0.5.

Only 52% of users believe the government should regulate children's internet usage, with parents (97%), school-teachers (74%) and internet service providers (70%) scoring more highly - although non-users are keener on regulation, with 67% thinking the state should be involved.

Research firm ICM questioned 2350 Britons aged 14 and older face to face at home in March and April of this year, with addresses chosen to provide a cross-section of the population. Responses were weighted to reflect the overall population of the UK.

Phil Zimmermann speech at Oxford Internet Institute (20 March 2007)

Interview with Eugene Kaspersky on virus outlook (May 2007)


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