"Internet Safety: The State of the Nation" has been published on the government's website www.getsafeonline.org.
The research shows that UK PC owners are making fundamental errors, that expose them to hacking and identity theft.
Tony Neate, managing director of Get Safe Online said:
"Protecting your home PC is a basic part of being safe and secure from the threat of criminal activity on the internet.
The fact that there are millions of households where the virtual backdoor is left wide open for criminals is a real concern – these people risk not only losing their own personal and financial information, but also put others at risk if criminals are able to access an innocent user's PC or internet connection. None of us would ever leave home without locking our doors and windows; by taking a few simple steps we can all ensure that our computers' doors and windows are automatically 'locked' every time they are switched on."
The research found that:
- 36% of the UK's 13.9 million home internet-connected PC users – 5 million machines – do not have any form of firewall stopping hackers from gaining access to their computers and using personal information.
- 46% do not have anti-spyware software.
- 35% of home PC users said they do not download updates from Microsoft or Apple to ensure that their machines have the latest security updates.
- Over 10% of the 9 million broadband users in the UK do not have a firewall on their home PCs.
- 21% households that use wireless broadband for their PCs say that they do not have password protection on their connections. This means that criminals could "take over" their internet connection and use it to send thousands of spam emails, posing as the legitimate user.
- 25% of home PC users do not have anti-spam programmes which would protect them from "phishing" attacks and other email frauds.
- Almost 1 million home PC users do not have anti-virus software on their machines.
Nick McGrath, Microsoft and Get Safe Online spokesperson, said:
"Governments and businesses are working tirelessly to counter online security threats but the reality is we're dealing with criminals who use ever more sophisticated methods to attack computers.
Regardless of security measures that have been pre-installed, entirely new and complex threats will continue to emerge.
Prevention is the best defence! For many people today, a PC is increasingly becoming a vital investment for the home and as long as some basic measures are taken from the moment of boot-up and throughout its life-time, it can remain that way."
You have been warned!