Responding to the rising cybercrime threat, the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday unveiled an online tool designed to help consumers avoid becoming victims of Internet scams.
At the website, www.onguardonline.gov, consumers can take interactive quizzes designed to enlighten them about ID theft, phishing, spam and online-shopping scams.
If the user selects a wrong answer, the program explains why that particular misconception about Internet security can lead to trouble.
Elsewhere on the site, consumers can find detailed guidance on how to monitor their credit histories, use effective passwords and recover from identity theft.
"We're trying to make the information as accessible as possible, with tips so people can take action," said Nat Wood, the FTC's assistant director for consumer and business education.
The education push comes as the tide of cybercrime continues to rise. Special reports by USA TODAY have detailed how online thieves are sidestepping computer firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs to conduct elaborate scams centered around use of the Internet.
Inherently difficult to track, evidence of cybercrime nonetheless continues to mount:
•Malicious software. During the first half of 2005, 74% of the top 50 malicious attacks contained code to steal account logons, passwords and other sensitive data, compared with 54% the previous six months, according to security firm Symantec.
•Keystroke loggers. The number of programs designed to directly swipe logons and passwords, as a computer user types them on a keyboard, soared to about 6,191 last year, up from 3,753 in 2004, says iDefense, a division of VeriSign.
•Hijacked online accounts. Computers in an estimated 9.9 million U.S. households that engage in online banking transactions have been infected by keystroke loggers, giving cybercrooks potential access to an estimated $24 billion in deposits, says the tech security think tank The Sans Institute.
"The threat to a consumers' data is everywhere," says George Waller, executive vice president at computer-security firm StrikeForce Technologies. "There are worms and viruses on instant messages, web links, shared files."
Five federal agencies and 13 private organizations partnered to sponsor the OnGuard Online website. Information on the site is not copyrighted, and the FTC encourages companies and other organizations to download and widely disseminate the information.
"The increasing concern about online threats is one of the reasons we could put together such a blue-chip coalition for a program like this," says the FTC's Wood. "E-commerce is great, but we just want people to have the tools to use it safely."