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Symantec keeps weather eye out for Net threats

New Internet Threat Meter provides information on problems related to Web surfing, e-mail, IM and peer-to-peer file sharing.

Symantec on Tuesday plans to launch the Symantec Internet Threat Meter, a free service meant to inform consumers about the state of Net security.

Available on the Symantec Web site, the new threat meter will provide information on the current risk level associated with specific online activities: e-mail, Web surfing, instant messaging and file-sharing.

"There are other threat indicators on the Web," Dave Cole, a director at Symantec Security Response, said. "But what was missing was a place for consumers that breaks it down in plain English and gives actionable advice. This is like a weather report and telling users to grab the umbrella, instead of how much precipitation there is."

Other Net threat meters include those published by Internet Security Systems, SANS Internet Storm Center and the CNET Virus Threat Watch. Most tend to cater to IT professionals.

The new threat meter will rate online activity as low, medium or high risk. The rating is based on triggers related to malicious software, phishing and online fraud, vulnerabilities, online attacks and spam, Cole said.

For the indicator to move higher, there has to be a notable threat increase, Cole said. "If it is just at standard levels, it will remain at low risk," he said.

For example, the threat level for Web surfing would have been raised to "high" late last year, when a previously unknown flaw in rendering Windows Meta File images was being exploited to install spyware on vulnerable PCs, Cole said.

Similarly, when an unusual number of Trojan horses or phishing e-mails are being spammed, the e-mail threat level will rise to medium, Cole said. The medium level also will be used when a software flaw is found, but is not being exploited to attack users, he said.

The Symantec Internet Threat Meter also offers a few sentences of hints and provides links to other Web pages for more detailed advice, Cole said. For now, the Threat Meter will be available on Symantec's Web site only, though it may be integrated in new products or syndicated to other online outlets.