U.S. consumers lost nearly $8.5 billion to online threats

The risks associated with using the Internet remain high, yet many consumers are still complacent about online security according to the latest survey from Consumer Reports. U.S. consumers lost almost $8.5 billion over the last two years to viruses, spyware, and phishing schemes according to projections from the magazine’s annual State of the Net survey featured in the September issue. Additionally, Consumer Reports estimates that American consumers have replaced about 2.1 million computers over the past two years because of online threats.

Consumer Reports’ survey findings produced some hopeful signs that online security is slowly improving because the chances of becoming a cybervictim continue to decline. Consumers have 1 in 6 chance of becoming a cybervictim, down from 1 in 4 in 2007.

Spyware and virus infections have also declined significantly over the past few years. However, Consumer Reports’ projects that problems they cause have resulted in damages of roughly $6.5 billion over the past two years. Consumer Reports also estimates that 3.5 million U.S. households with broadband remain unprotected by a firewall.

The magazine’s 2008 State of the Net survey was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center using a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 households with Internet access. Below are additional findings for major online threats.

Spam: One in three survey respondents reported heavy levels of spam. One of the newest types, cell-phone spam, is a minor nuisance to most online homes. Still, Consumer Reports estimates that 1.2 million people nationwide received more than 25 such messages each during a recent six-month period.

Viruses: The rate of serious virus problems has declined 32 percent over the years that Consumer Reports has been tracking them. Yet 19 percent of respondents reported that they didn’t have antivirus software on their computer.

Spyware: Spyware problems have declined 54 percent since the magazine has been tracking them. One in 14 respondents reported a serious computer problem as a result of spyware, compared to 1 in 6 respondents in 2005. In the past six months, 566,000 households replaced computers due to spyware infections.

Phishing: Over the past two years, about 6.5 million consumers, or roughly 1 in 13 online households, gave phishing scammers personal information. Fourteen percent of them lost money. Consumer Reports estimates that American consumers lost about $2 billion to phishing scams. Phishing still thrives; it’s easy for criminals to download sophisticated and cheap phishing kits that feature authentic-looking corporate logos and other tools. Despite the dangers, 75 percent of Consumer Reports’ respondents said they didn’t use an anti-phishing toolbar.

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