Report: Broadband customers not playing it safe

Most broadband consumers are leaving themselves open to hackers via their always-on connections to the Internet, according to a new study.

What's more, most of these DSL and cable modem users don't realize how vulnerable they are or that their personal data may be at risk, according to the study, which was released this week by the National Cyber Security Alliance. The group consists of dozens of high-tech companies and government agencies dedicated to online computer safety.

The study involved interviews and system evaluations. It was conducted at the homes of 120 broadband consumers by technical experts from America Online Inc., an alliance member.

Only 11 percent of those surveyed were deemed to have securely configured systems, though 86 percent said they felt their computer is very or somewhat protected from online threats. The same number of respondents, 86 percent, acknowledged keeping sensitive health, financial or other personal data on their home computer.

Other findings included:

* 91 percent of users have spyware on their home computers, often placed surreptitiously by file-sharing programs.

* 97 percent of parents with broadband connections failed to use controls to keep their children safe from inappropriate contact or people.

* Although three-quarters of respondents have antivirus software, only half of them updated it in the past month.

In a statement, AOL Chief Trust Officer and Senior Vice President for Integrity Assurance Tatiana Gau said: "A basic broadband connection without protection can be the equivalent of a high-speed sewage pipe into the home, flooding it with viruses, porn, spam and hackers. It is critical that every broadband user practice safe broadband with, at minimum, a properly configured firewall, updated anti-virus protection and parental controls."

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