Most people think that they’re protecting their computers but few are as safe as they think they are. According to a poll conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the anti-virus company McAfee, 87 percent of Americans say they have anti-virus software. When their computers were scanned (with their permission), 94% actually had anti-virus software but only 52% had updated it in the last month. New viruses are released daily. An out-of-date anti-virus package does you almost no good at all. Most anti-virus packages have an option to update themselves automatically. For almost all of us, that’s the right choice.

73% of those surveyed said they had a firewall. 81% had a firewall but only 64% had it activated. That’s like saying your money is protected by the steel door of the bank vault but leaving the door hanging open. Never disable your firewall.

70%t said they had anti-spyware software but only 55% actually have it.

The poll also reported that 61% believe they have anti-spam software installed but only 21% do. (In this case, the poll question may have been worded poorly. If your spam filtering is done by your ISP or your webmail provider, you may be protected from spam even though the anti-spam software is not on your specific machine.) Regardless of how you run it, the important point is to have an anti-spam solution.

Oddly, the study found that computers of older Americans tend to be more secure than those of the allegedly-more tech-savvy younger Americans.

To be properly protected, you need current anti-virus, an active firewall, up-to-date patches for your operating system and applications and at least one anti-spyware program running. If you don’t, you are taking unnecessary risks with your personal information.

Click here to read the full study results.

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