Government Cyber Streetwise website pushes Internet security. Will people listen?

Offers basic security advice to the masses

The Government has launched 'Cyber Streetwise', a brand new awareness campaign that has set itself the task of persuading consumers and sMEs to take simple precautions to secure themselves against Internet criminality.

The core of the Home Office initiative is a colourful, graphic-heavy website that offers a basic list of security precautions, such as updating software, running antivirus, using complex passwords, and spotting phishing emails. SMEs get the business equivalent; stay on the right side of the Data Protection Act, protect customer data, make sure wireless access points really are secure.

For anyone who might suggest the advice is too obvious, the Home Office has pulled out figures from the National Cyber Security Consumer Tracker to show that a large proportion of people still ignore even these simple precautions.

Less than half were installing security software on new devices, with two thirds ignoring the need to keep software updated. More than half did not check websites before making purchases and - most telling of all - less than a third used complex passwords despite numerous warnings that this can be a major vulnerability.

The Cyber Streetwise website's use of a cartoon street is a metaphoric way of underlining that consumers should use the same cautiousness on the Internet that they would when visiting a high street.

"The internet has radically changed the way we work and socialise. It has created a wealth of opportunities, but with these opportunities there are also threats. As a government we are taking the fight to cyber criminals wherever they are in the world," said Security Minister, James Brokenshire.

"However, by taking a few simple steps while online the public can keep cyber criminals out and their information safe," he added. "Cyber Streetwise is an innovative new campaign that will provide everyone with the knowledge and confidence to make simple and effective changes to stay safe online."

Security commentators and vendors have flooded journalists with positive comment on Cyber Streetwise, praising it as a step in the right direction.

A smaller number wondered why it would be any more likely to get through than previous campaigns run under the auspices of the admirable but still barely known Get Safe Online. That appeared as long ago as 2005.

Indeed, only last summer the Home Office launched a similar £4 million 'awareness' campaign.

"I reckon anything which helps raise awareness amongst home users and small businesses about online threats has to be a good thing," said independent security expert Graham Cluley.

"My concern, however, is always that these sites tend to preach to the converted. The challenge is not so much in creating sites like CyberStreetWise.com but in encouraging the people who most need advice to visit and learn from them."

"Some in the tech community may think the site's approach is a little 'cartoony' and low-brow, but we need to remember that they're not the intended audience, and the folks behind the site are - presumably - keen to appeal to the broadest possible number of potential online victims."

Cluley's qualified praise was echoed by ISACA Security Advisory Group advisory member, Sarb Sembhi.

"In my opinion, the web site is too simplistic to look at, too complex to get to what you want and at the same time too condescending to the user. I don't think the information is necessarily any better than you can find anywhere else," he said.

Funded as part of the Government's larger National Cyber Security Programme, the initiative has been backed by private sector firms including Sophos, Facebook, RBS Group, and Financial Fraud Action UK.

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