What does your role at Virgin Media involve?
I work in the Broadband Value Added Services team here at Virgin Media. My team looks after all the great additional services you can get as a broadband customer, like our free Internet Security Suite, our Back Up & Storage products and our free prints package. We're also responsible for looking at new and exciting products and services for our broadband customers.
What are the big internet security threats that you think people should be aware of?
That’s a big question! The fact is that malicious software (or malware) is evolving constantly. When the security industry cracks one piece of malware, the programmers release an updated version and the cycle continues. However there are a few key trends that we should all take note of.
Can you tell us about some of those trends?
One of the biggest and relatively unknown issues is the hijacking of legitimate websites. Ask most people how to avoid getting an infection and they’ll tell you that it’s all about the sites you visit. “Avoid ‘dodgy’ sites and you avoid infection.” But it’s just not that simple.
What most people don’t realise is that an infection can come from the most legitimate of sites. Malware can hide in adverts, hijack whole sites or simply fool the user into clicking on a benign looking pop-up. Typically these ‘infections’ are picked up relatively quickly by the bigger sites but with thousands of customers visiting high traffic sites every minute, the infection rate can be phenomenal.
So Security Software really is an essential tool for even the lightest web user.
Apart from internet security software, is it important to update other programmes too?
Absolutely! Programs like Firefox, iTunes, QuickTime, Skype, Adobe Acrobat Reader and many more can contain critical security flaws if you don’t accept and install their latest updates. Hackers continually ‘prod and poke’ well known applications, looking for ways to mask the installation of malware and confuse security software into thinking that all is fine.
So next time you see an annoying message telling you to update your software, make sure you accept it as soon as possible; it’s one of the simplest ways to protect your PC.
What’s actually downloaded onto your PC when it gets infected?
The most prolific type of malware in 2010 is ‘Botnets’. A Botnet is actually a generic term used to describe a collection of home PCs that have become infected with certain type of malicious software that can be controlled to perform a variety of different tasks. Botnets can be used to send spam or download a whole host of other malware that can be used for a wide range of activities including the recording of passwords and financial details as they are entered on the internet via a home PC.
The number of PCs that form part of a Botnet can number in the millions. So if all the infected machines are commanded to carry out the same activity the net result can be catastrophic, and this makes them valuable. In fact Botnet controllers can rent out their collection of infected PCs to criminals for enormous financial gain.
Ok, so what’s Virgin Media doing to help customers stay safe online?
The security of our customers is a major concern for us and that’s why we offer all our customers a free Internet Security suite that protects up to 3 PCs.
Without adequate protection, or simply out of date software, a PC can become infected quite quickly. Sophisticated programs can hide in legitimate websites and infect anybody that passes by. Once the infection installs itself it’s surprising what it can get up to! So it's absolutely vital that people install adequate security software. Some free software just isn't up to the job so people have to ensure they use the most complete package available.....as a Virgin Media customer that's easy as we provide a comprehensive package for free.
Are you doing anything to specifically tackle the malware problem?
Yes, we've recently embarked on a trial where we contact customers who we believe have been infected by malware. In order to do this, we've been working with a number of not-for-profit organisations across the banking industry and security sectors that collate information on virus infection across the internet. They alert us and other UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) when any viruses have infected a connection. We can use this information to identify the account and then alert the individual customer.
How are you protecting children online?
We were one of the founder members of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which identifies and enables us to remove or block access to sites containing potentially illegal material, such as images of child abuse or incitement to racial hatred.
We work closely with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency (CEOP), providing the information they need to conduct their investigations. We are also members of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), where we are active in discussions regarding the responsibilities of ISP’s to take further action.
Click here to see details of UKCCIS’ ‘Click Clever Click Safe’ code and further information and advice provided by CEOP.
What about parental controls?
Virgin Media Security Parental Controls utilises a comprehensive database that automatically blocks children from accessing over 550 million URLs containing inappropriate content such as pornography and gambling. The service provides the ability to block based on categories of web sites or specific web sites. It’s simple to use - just select the category of websites that you want to block and it’s done.
Any changes to the setting is password protected and you can set up different levels of protection for children depending on their age.
What really worries you about online protection?
The fact is that people seem more willing to share personal information on the web than they would do in any other social situation. This may sound innocuous as long as you’re not shouting out your bank details for all to hear, but when you consider the more vulnerable sectors of society, this personal information can potentially be used to trick and deceive.
Children need to be taught the dangers of the internet. In the same way as crossing the road is seen as a vital skill when growing up, the difference between what to publish online and what to keep private can be just as important.
But it’s not just the more vulnerable of society that are at risk. Everybody needs to consider the wider implications of publishing details of their daily lives online. Do you really want that video of you at a stag or hen party easily available to a potential employer?
Where will the internet go next?
There’s no doubt that digital technology will continue to revolutionise and streamline the way we communicate. The downside is that this will only encourage criminal organisations to develop increasingly sophisticated malware in search of easy profit.
As malware continues to evolve we’ll gradually see the protection of customers' online presence move away from purely desktop security solutions towards service provider controlled defences. The rise of cloud computing and data storage will also see security responsibilities shift in favour of service providers.
In short, online security is only going to become more important as more of our lives become more digital, but the way in which we defend ourselves is likely to change dramatically.