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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 July, 2005, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Buzzwords slow to grab US surfers
Image of man in front of his laptop
The survey shows it takes time for buzzwords to percolate widely
Buzzwords to describe the latest trends on the net, such as "RSS", "podcasting" and "phishing", are largely unknown to US web users, according to a survey.

Research body, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found that only 9% had a "good idea" what RSS (Really Simple Syndication) was.

Awareness of what "phishing" was, online bank scam e-mails, also scored low. Only 29% knew what it meant.

But "spam", "firewall", and "spyware" were all well-known to surfers.

This is level of knowledge is not surprising considering the large number of spam e-mails the average internet user receives.

Low levels of knowledge about very new buzzwords which early adopters frequently use, such as "podcasts", was unsurprising since it has been barely a year since the term was coined.

The study was also carried out before Apple iTunes 4.9 was released with the ability to search and subscribe to podcasts.

RSS is becoming a popular way of keeping automatically aware of website updates and has been a growing presence on websites and weblogs. It is essentially automated surfing.

Portals like BT Yahoo broadband are starting to push and explain it, to get more people using it.

BT sees it as the next step in customisation on the web, but many websites are still experimenting with the best way to present and explain it to the average surfer.

Net exposure

Only 3% of the more than 1,330 net users questioned had never heard of spam, firewalls or spyware.

Equally, net users have had a lot of exposure to stories about security threats on the net which have reinforced the message about installing firewalls and other protection to stay secure online.

But security experts have been warning for some time about the changing nature of net threats, and phishing is one of the growing threats that surfers should be aware of.

Install anti-virus software
Keep your anti-virus software up to date
Install a personal firewall
Use Windows updates to patch security holes
Do not open e-mail messages that look suspicious
Do not click on e-mail attachments you were not expecting

The Anti-Phishing Working Group recently reported that the average monthly growth rate in phishing sites between July 2004 and February 2005 was 26%.

Phishing e-mails try to fool people into giving away personal and login details on fake websites made to look like real bank sites.

Cyber criminals have become increasingly involved in creating phishing scam messages and sites.

As a result, increasingly sophisticated techniques mean that the bogus sites have become more difficult to distinguish from the legitimate ones.

Sex and age

Levels of awareness and knowledge about net security amongst older net users - those over 65 - was encouraging, however.

Eighty-five percent of the over-65s knew what spam was, compared to 88% of 18 to 29-year-olds.

Although the gaps in knowledge about phishing were greater between the age groups. Fifty-five percent of 18 to 29-year-olds knew what is was compared to 31% of over-65s.

The study suggested that "as a rule", men tended to be more aware of the latest terms than women. But the variations in awareness were not huge.

The differences could reflect different uses and habits men and women might have when they go online, as well as who takes responsibility for the security of the family computer.

The study also loooked at knowledge differences between those with broadband connections and those surfers still on dial-up.

Ninety-four percent of broadband compared to 85% of dial-up users knew what spam was.

But only 43% of dial-up users compared to 65% of broadbanders knew about adware. Knowledge of web cookies was also fairly low amongst those with slower net connections.

Only 59% of them compared to 81% of broadband users knew the term.

Image of a podcaster in front of her laptop
Spam Unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail
Firewall Program or device that filters information coming through an internet connection and blocks packets that the user has identified as threatening
Spyware Programs that are loaded onto a computer without consent and that track users' online activities
Internet cookies Computer code that is placed on a hard drive when internet users go to websites and allow the sites to identify the computer if it returns to the site
Adware Software that is bundled with free files and programs that is loaded on a computer and can use information about a computer users preferences to provide targeted advertising to them
Internet phishing Unsolicited e-mails that attempt to acquire an internet user's sensitive information, such as credit card numbers by pretending to be a trustworthy person on business
Podcasting Audio files that are downloaded from websites loaded onto digital music players such as iPods and played at the convenience of users
RSS feeds A file format that allows syndication of web content, including blog postings, to those who have subscribed to the material
Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

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