Yesterday was the beginning of the Cyber Security Awareness Month in the United States, and to kick-start the month’s efforts, the NCSA and McAfee have released a new survey that shows how vulnerable most computer owners are without realizing it, due to overestimating the amount of protection they have along with poor updating habits.

According to the report, 87 percent of US-based users polled by the survey claimed to have anti-virus software installed on their systems, with a further 73 percent believing they had a firewall installed, and 70 percent claiming to use anti-spyware software.

However, after their systems were remotely scanned by McAfee and the NCSA, the results indicated that although 94 percent of those scanned did indeed have anti-virus software, only 50 percent of users had bothered to update it. Furthermore, only 55 percent had antispyware and 81 percent had a firewall – but only 64 percent of those had their firewall enabled.

The report goes on with a series of “Perception vs. Reality” comparisons. Given that one of the surveyors involved in the study is a major vendor of PC security software, many could see this as an attempt to sell more software. Regardless, the report does highlight that consumers are generally less safe than they believe. It is certainly important to stay on top of security with the latest patches and definitions, but perhaps most important is the need for users to learn to be more cautious about the websites they visit, the links they click, the mail messages they read, and the files they choose to accept from others.