RSA Conference 2007: Does end-user education work?

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Educating consumers about internet risks is a dicey proposition, one security expert said during a panel at RSA Conference 2007 in San Francisco.

At the Business Software Alliance-sponsored discussion on Wednesday, Ira Winkler, president of the Internet Security Advisors Group, placed some of the blame of identity theft on "naive" end-users who fail to keep their machines properly updated.

He said he dined with some eBay executives earlier Wednesday who told him the auction giant has spent millions of dollars to educate consumers and has seen poor results.

"It'll only be successful when we integrate security into the infrastructure," Winkler said, lauding steps such as Microsoft's new anti-phishing capabilities in Internet Explorer 7.

Robert Maynard, who founded ID theft prevention firm Lifelock — after three cyberthieves stole his identity — agreed that many users do not have time to learn about security measures.

"Consumers are just looking for solutions," he said.

But Marc Groman, the Federal Trade Commission's first chief privacy officer, said education is a critical component to security, and criticizing the end-user will not help to foster constructive dialogue.

"We need the industry to work with us to get the word out," he said.

Winkler said laws need to be passed that require internet service providers to tighten what traffic they allow through their networks.

Christopher Painter, principal deputy chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, said botnets are being used in a number of ways, including to launch DoS attacks, spam phishing emails and to compromise identities.

"They've really become the Swiss army knife of computer hacking," he said.

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