MANY of the world's leading companies are jumping headlong into the new information age of open computer networks without being aware of the huge security risks they run. Computer fraud cost US$1 billion in France alone last year and the world figure is estimated at US$5 billion, at least. 'Every self-respecting company of some size needs to be connected to open computer networks such as Internet to do business and stay competitive,' Michel Zouary, in charge of computer security at Rhone-Poulenc, a French chemical company, said. 'But not everybody realises the risks they are running.' Computer security experts from around the world gathered recently for a two-day conference to discuss ways to counter hackers, prevent fraud and destroy viruses and contain the safety risks of computer networks. Companies should become more sensitive to the computer risks they run. These can range from lost or stolen diskettes with vital information, lost or stolen portable computers that connect to a company's central system, open networks that let hackers access company secrets and computer viruses that destroy information. 'There is a risk that you lose sensitive information,' Mr Zouary said. 'But there is also a risk that somebody undermines your integrity by falsely spreading information purportedly coming from you.' There is not yet an answer on how to cope with it and Mr Zouary thinks it will take years before it could be solved.