A global survey to assess whether South Africans trusted online transactions has come up with mixed findings after only 400 people responded. Opinion was almost evenly divided about the safety of the internet, with 51% finding it safe and 48% considering it unsafe. Only 1% found telecommunication networks very safe, while 55% thought them highly unsafe.

Despite those misgivings, 60% felt comfortable surfing the internet and conducting online transactions, with 40% experiencing "some degree" of discomfort.

The survey, conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), found that nearly 80% of respondents considered privacy to be important when they surfed the web. Most people thought their privacy was not adequately respected.

The theft of personal information was the most common concern, followed by a fear of viruses and worms. Nearly a fifth worried about spyware, while scams and fraud unnerved 13%. Only 8% found spam a thing to fear, rather than just a nuisance.

The general ill ease had a big impact on behaviour, as two-thirds refrained from certain online activities in case their personal data was misused.

When it came to the reporting of illegal content or misuse of the internet, 60% had no idea of how to complain or to whom to complain. An overwhelming 86% were in favour of some sort of online resource to consolidate information on cyber security and advice on how to stay safe online.

To meet that need, the ITU has launched a cyber security website to share information covering spam, spyware, phishing, scams and frauds, worms and viruses and denial-of-service attacks.

"In today's interconnected world, threats can now originate anywhere -- our collective cyber security depends on the security practices of every connected country, business and citizen," said Yoshio Utsumi, the ITU's secretary-general.

Locally, software developer TimBukOne conducted its own survey to determine how much use was made of security practices in daily computing.

"Some of us know what we should do to protect ourselves and our information assets. Many of us do not," said MD Jos Pols.

"The survey highlights some of the areas where theory and practice do not always meet."

A quarter of respondents did not use any antispam or anti- spyware software, although 94% considered the data on their computers to be important. Less than 7% always used encryption.

"Passwords are another hot topic," said Pols. A seven-character password of numbers and upper- and lower-case letters can be cracked within days. "Eight characters using upper- and lower-case letters and numerals are the minimum for a decent password," Pols said.

Business Day