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Computer Security Hopes and Fears

June 21 2006

Two research studies this week look at privacy and security in the digital age. Ofcom, the UK's independent communications regulator, has published research examining approaches to Internet consumer protection in the UK and other countries, while Evans Data says developers in the EMEA region report a fall in security breaches.

Ofcom says that 59% of all UK adults now have access to the internet at home, with 68% of these connected to high speed, content-rich services via broadband. Consumers 'expect to be protected from fraud and other forms of harm whether online or not', and Ofcom notes the additional challenges posed by the Internet versus other media in this regard:

  • successful consumer protection on the internet has generally involved a much higher degree of co- and self-regulation than other media
  • effective consumer protection requires more significant levels of international co-operation, and
  • the Internet places a much greater responsibility than before on consumers to take action to protect themselves.
The report is published as the European Commission takes forward proposals to extend the Television Without Frontiers Directive, which governs the regulation of audio-visual content across Europe, to include the Internet in existing statutory broadcast content regulation. Ofcom has previously argued that this could prove to be counter-productive, and in the report points to extensive new and existing regulation applied to 'Net content, including TrustUK, a quality seal system identifying compliant vendors; the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA); the Internet Watch Foundation, which identifies and takes action against images of child pornography as well as criminally obscene and racist content; and the Internet Crime Forum, which encourages co-operation between Internet Service Providers and law enforcement agencies in the UK.

However, Ofcom also flags up challenges including consumer wariness parting with credit card information (it claims only 28% of Internet users are willing to disclose this info); and the theft of personal information through 'phishing' and 'pharming' (tricking the user's web browser into accessing a fraudulent website). It argues however that 'unilateral national level approaches to blocking or removing illegal and harmful content are of limited effectiveness without international co-operation.'

The survey can be found at www.ofcom.org.uk.

Meanwhile IT industry market intelligence firm Evans Data Corporation has good news on another security front. The firm's latest survey of software developers, the EMEA Development Survey, claims security breaches are hitting record lows in the EMEA region. Fewer than half of developers (47%) reported breaches of security, down almost 20% on the figure for spring 2004.

Computer viruses remain the most common form of breach, accounting for 22% of those reported. Web-related breaches are up, but there are fewer worm and buffer overflow attacks.

John Andrews, President, Evans Data, says better software security practices early in the software lifecycle are positively affecting overall security breaches.

The survey questioned almost 400 developers in spring 2006. Evans Data is online at www.evansdata.com .

All articles 2006-22 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas unless otherwise stated.

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