IN MARCH, when Symantec, the cybersecurity firm in Mountain View, California (also home of Microsoft rival Google), named Seattle the “Riskiest Online City” we didn’t so much get defensive as, well, dismissive. Symantec, which designs Norton antivirus software, claimed that out of 50 major U.S. cities, ours is the absolute worst in terms of susceptibility to cybercrimes—including online identity theft, viruses, and spam. Those might be fighting words in most cities; in tech savvy Seattle, though, we hissed a collective please.
And leading our citywide psffft heard around the world was University of Washington Internet security guru Dave Dittrich, who likened Symantec’s findings to “a commissioned PR piece that just calls itself ‘research.’ ”
An engineer and researcher with the university’s Applied Physics Laboratory, Dittrich cofounded the Honeynet Project, a nonprofit collective intent on protecting the public from Internet crimes. In February he helped Microsoft take down the notorious W32.Waledec botnet, which had the capacity to send roughly 1.5 billion spam emails a day.
Reviewing the Symantec ranking, Dittrich couldn’t help but notice the shameless plugs for Norton antivirus software at the end of the report. All antivirus products are more or less comparable, he said, and none of them catch 100 percent of the threats floating around cyberspace.
Protecting yourself from the kinds of crimes cited by the Norton folks is simple, says Dittrich. Be skeptical of emails asking you to install anything or provide information “you wouldn’t just offer up to someone sitting next to you on the bus”; and keep all software on your computer updated.
Does Seattle have a bigger problem than anywhere else? The Symantec report cited the Emerald City’s high number of early tech adopters, high Wi-Fi use, online banking and shopping, and other “risky behaviors.” But Dittrich scoffs at the generic simplicity of the statement. “They might as well say, ‘The Internet is hostile.’ ”