NEC is taking recent computer virus and security problems to heart and has begun notifying users when potential problems exist on their PCs.

This week, the computer giant has started setting pre-installed support software to monitor the security level of Internet Explorer (IE) and warn users when the settings have been changed from the recommended medium security level. This is to guard against the lowering of settings without the owner's knowledge by viruses or worms, said Aki Ota, a spokeswoman for the Tokyo company.

From the middle of November, the company will also begin prompting users to install operating system patches. Users will be prompted before any changes are made and the remainder of the process will be automatic if the user agrees to the action, said NEC.

The functions will be enabled on new PCs and also those sold since October 02 on which NEC's dedicated support software is running. The software contacts an NEC support server for messages and updates from the company to the user and it will use this mechanism to enable the new functions, said NEC.

The company, which is one of Japan's largest PC makers, said it is taking the measure to help protect its consumer users from problems caused by viruses and worms.

A number of recent high-profile computer viruses have indicated that many users to do not bother downloading patches and updates for their operating system. When Microsoft issued a patch in mid-July that would protect systems from the Blaster worm, the quick spread of the worm some weeks later pointed to many unpatched systems on the internet.

In response, the company said it was considering automatic patching of systems, similar to the action NEC has decided to take. One of the actions included on a security CD-ROM Microsoft began distributing free to Japanese users in September is to switch on the Windows Update function.