A meteorologist for web users

Anti-virus giant Symantec today unveiled its "Internet Threat Meter," an easy-to-understand web feature that provides consumers with updated risks associated with popular online activities.

"This is sort of a security weather report for your average Joe," said Dave Cole, director of Symantec Security Response.

The threat meter rates the four common online activities – email, web surfing, instant messaging and file sharing – on a risk level of low, medium or high based on reports of malware, vulnerabilities and spam, according to a Symantec statement.

For example, the threat meter said there was low risk associated with emailing today: "There is currently no high-priority malicious code employing email as a propagation vector. Normal precautions should however be taken while viewing emails due to ongoing threats such as phishing attacks."

Instant messaging and file sharing also drew low-risk warnings.

However, web browsing prompted a moderate risk, and Symantec advised extra caution: "There are currently multiple exploits available for recently patched vulnerabilities in various Microsoft client-side software. Users could be affected by simply browsing to a website."

Symantec representatives said they hope the threat meter will enhance security and trust among internet users.

"Consumers should feel confident about their security when they are online," said Arthur Wong, vice president of Symantec Securing Response. "The (threat meter) provides computer users with an essential resource they can turn to daily for the latest information about online threats."

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