The UK Government has launched a new website designed to warn home and small business users of virus and computer threat alerts in real time.

Anyone who registers for the free service, ITsafe, by supplying an e-mail address or mobile phone number, will be able to receive warnings of high-risk viruses and other security issues as soon as the government National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) considers them notable.

Funded by the Home Office, it is hoped that the service will in time become an important port of call for the UK’s large population of computer users who don’t have access to the commercial threat services used by larger businesses.

Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, launched ITsafe with a promise. "Signing up to this service will give users an extra level of defence in two key ways; by providing general advice on IT security and issuing official alerts if and when it is felt there is a serious enough threat from a virus of other form of threat," she said during the mandatory photo-call.

Early days it might be but the service suffers from a number of the teething problems that tend to afflict government-sponsored websites. The first is its web address - - hardly memorable for site that is supposed to appeal to unsavvy computer users. So many users may never find it or not return if they haven’t actually signed up for alerts during the initial burst of publicity.

To be successful, the site will need to promote itself through ISPs, but a quick visit to a number of UK ISP technical support pages revealed that none of them currently link to ITsafe. Twenty-four hours into the service, the site has yet to issue any urgent or non-urgent alerts, so perhaps this is not surprising.

Presumably, under recent freedom of information legislation, it will be possible to assess the number of people who have signed up for the service in a year’s time. Without such accountability, and any impetus to develop, ITsafe could end up being just another well-meaning government online scheme that nobody hears of again. How much taxpayers' money will have been spent in the meantime may well come back to haunt the Home Office.