The internet is like Iraq

Who's to blame for the spread of viruses and spam? Oh... we are

The internet is like Iraq. There are certain people who believe that people on the internet can be divided up into goodies and baddies and that the way to defeat the baddies is through overwhelming force. These people are normally the ones trying to sell you the instrument of that force. "Without superior firepower," they reason, "we will quickly succumb to viruses, worms, trojans, hacks, phishing, spam and porn."

But in fact, the enemy is within; it is us. We install elaborate filters against porn and spam but then we search relentlessly for porn and buy all kinds of stuff from spam emails. We run three different anti-virus programs at once but then cheerfully open random attachments "because they were sent by someone we know" and take days or weeks to get round to installing security patches.

It's not about goodies and baddies. There's just people who want money and people who want attention. Running a news story about the latest killer virus feeds the fire. Clicking that suspicious link, just to see what all the fuss is about, feeds the fire. Hitting reply to the 419 scammer, on the off-chance you really might be the beneficiary of a $25million laundering scheme… feeds the fire.

What doesn't feed the fire? Researching the details of a scare story before you forward it to everyone in your address book. Googling a product name to find a reputable supplier, rather than just clicking the link in an email. Keeping all your personal details off your Facebook profile. Blaming weird computer glitches on user error, faulty drivers, buggy software, incompatible hardware, overheating, pixie dust, leprechauns or the phase of the moon before you consider the possibility of a virus.

You can't win the fight, but you don't need to step into the ring, either.