Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


New survey reveals Internet users are bombarded by online attacks

Vancouver, WA – Vancouver senior Joe Macher’s Internet search started with a few simple words, “Free Kids Games.” Unfortunately, the files and programs his grandkids downloaded while they played online were anything but kids play.

“The games looked fun and innocent enough,” said Macher. “But in the background, someone was busy loading up my machine with spyware, adware and viruses.”

The illicit files Macher’s grandkids downloaded during just a few hours of online gaming crashed his computer. After days of trying to fix the problem himself, Macher had no choice but to pay a professional tech service to clean his computer and reinstall all of his software.

Unfortunately, Macher isn’t alone. According to a new survey by AARP, Washington Web surfers are bombarded by online attacks. AARP issued findings from its new survey, “Caught in the Net,” as part of a new statewide “Cyber Safety” consumer protection partnership with the Attorney General’s Office, Microsoft, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Attorney General Rob McKenna joined nearly 400 Portland and Southwest Washington seniors who packed the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay on June 14 to hear from computer and online safety experts. The stop was the sixth on a series of free half-day seminars conducted in cities throughout the state.

Participants learned how to protect themselves against the latest online crimes, including phishing scams, viruses and spyware. They also learned of the Attorney General’s Office latest law enforcement efforts, including a recent lawsuit to protect consumers from spyware deception.

“The Attorney General’s Office has made fighting high-tech fraud a top priority,” McKenna said. “Prevention, however, is the most effective way to reduce fraud. Our partnership with AARP, Microsoft and the Federal Trade Commission is part of our overall strategy to arm consumers with the knowledge needed to protect their computers and their personal information.”

AARP’s survey explored the scope of online attacks experienced by Washington Internet users, and tested their knowledge of some of the most common online dangers.

“The power of the Internet puts information, resources and the world just a mouse click away,” said AARP state Director Doug Shadel. “However, many Internet users are unprepared to fend off some of the most common online dangers lurking behind their computer screens.”

If you’re connected to the Internet, computer security experts estimate that your computer is attacked approximately 300 times per hour by spyware, viruses and other unwanted software – a far cry from the 25 or fewer hourly attacks that half of Washington Internet users thought to be true.

According to the survey, almost all Washington Internet users (89 percent) report that they have received spam and nearly half (45 percent) have received phishing emails. Half (46 percent) say they have found spyware on their computers and four in 10 (38 percent) report that they have discovered viruses or worms on their computers.

Kristen Johnsen, senior director of security at Microsoft, explained how computer users can protect themselves from the majority of online hazards.

“The Internet makes it convenient for people to shop, bank and communicate with loved ones,” said Johnsen. “Staying safe online is easy to do with some simple safeguards. Microsoft recommends four simple steps people can take to keep themselves safe from the majority of online threats. This includes using a firewall, running regular software updates, using anti-virus protection and anti-spyware software,” she said.

According to AARP’s survey, Washington Internet users get high marks for protecting themselves with tools such as virus protection software (91 percent), firewalls (80 percent), and anti-spyware protection software (79 percent). However, they are dangerously unaware of the warning signs of some of the most common Internet scams and of how their personal information is tracked online. The survey showed that:

  • Nearly half (49 percent) of Washington Internet users are in danger of falling victim to phishing scams. Forty-nine percent are unaware that banks do not send their customers emails requesting that they click on a link to verify account information.
  • Over half of Washington Internet users are unaware of how their information is tracked online. Six in ten users (59 percent) are unaware that online merchants do not give consumers the opportunity to see the information they gather about their customers. And half (50 percent) are unaware that Web sites can share customers’ personal information with company affiliates without telling customers their names.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Washington Internet users are unaware that when a Web site has a privacy policy, it does not prevent them from sharing customers’ personal information with others.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Washington Internet users say they have downloaded programs and files from the Internet, and nearly one-quarter (24 percent) say the program or file caused their computer to malfunction or completely shut down.
  • E-mail attachments can sometimes contain harmful worms or viruses. About one-quarter (24 percent) of Washington Internet users have opened email attachments from someone they didn’t know, and one-third (33 percent) of them say it caused their computer to malfunction or completely shut down.

AARP’s survey found that while Internet users of all ages are largely unaware of the warning signs of the most common Internet dangers, adults over the age of 65 are even less familiar with online pitfalls like spyware and online privacy concerns. Older adults are also less likely to take precautionary measures like installing firewalls, virus protection and anti-spyware software.

Seminar attendees received educational brochures and a short video on DVD outlining the ten tips all computer users should know to protect themselves online. They were urged to share the information with their families and friends. Participants were also told who they can turn to for help if they fall victim to an online scam or attack.

When asked who they would turn to or contact for help, none of the respondents to AARP’s survey suggested the Federal Trade Commission and less than one-third (31 percent) suggested their Internet service provider.

“Consumer complaints are an essential resource for local, state, and federal law enforcement officials,” said Chuck Harwood, regional director of the Federal Trade Commission. “Law enforcers review consumer complaints to spot trends and build cases against cyber scammers and identity thieves.”

For more information about online safety and to obtain AARP’s free “Cyber Safety” tool kit, visit www.aarp.org/wa.

Where to report online fraud:

  • If you receive spam that violates Washington state law: Notify your ISP, forward it to the FTC at spam@uce.gov and file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office on our Web site. It's important to include the full e-mail header; instructions are available on the Attorney General’s Web site.
  • If you are a victim of malicious or deceptive spyware, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov and the Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov.
  • If your computer is hacked or infected by a virus: Contact your Internet Service Provider, the hacker’s ISP (if you can tell what it is), and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
  • If a scammer takes advantage of you through online shopping or another way: File a complaint with the FTC at www.ftc.gov and the Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov.

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Media Contacts:

Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, Attorney General’s Office, (206) 464-6432

Jason Erskine, AARP, 206-517-9345 (office), 206-604-7085 (cell)