One in Five Americans Think Internet Less Safe than A Year Ago

October 6, 2010

Just 5.1% feel the Internet is safer today than it was a year ago.  68% feel it’s about the same, while 21.2% think it’s less safe. Half of Americans say they are most concerned about identity theft of all the possible things that could happen to them online, according to newly released Online Safety Study by the 2010 National Cyber Security Alliance and Symantec.

Computers lack security protections

The study also found that only 24% of Americans feel very safe and 61% feel somewhat safe that their home computers are protected. Unfortunately, while Americans may feel protected on their home computers, they are experiencing a false sense of security.

Comprehensive protecting means you have antivirus, firewall, antispyware, spam filter, anti-phishing, and identity protection tools in place and up-to-date.

In a consistently concerning trend, 58% of study respondents said they had a complete security software suite – but when their computers were actually scanned for security software, only 37% were fully protected.

This means 63% of home computers are unprotected, or under-protected, from malware, and  these  computer are unquestionably infected with malware.

In response to the survey question, Do you believe your computer is currently infected with a malicious program? 85% said no. That’s a lot of naïveté about what’s really going on with their computer and information.

The table to the right shows just how much information these unprotected users have already had compromised – and yet they wonder how their identity is stolen and their personal information exposed.

Half of Americans now have two-to-three computers at home, with 74% owning a laptop or netbook according to the study findings.  All told, 31% said their laptop or netbook is their primary computer.  Nearly 17% of respondents can connect to the Internet via their TV, and 24% connect via a gaming device.

Unprotected WiFi Use

This increased number of internet access points expose new security, safety and privacy risks. Wireless networks have reached high levels of adoption, with 70% of respondents saying they have a wireless router at home, but 43% admitted they have logged onto a wireless network without entering a password – a number that increases to 66% for 18 to 29 year olds. (see my blogs Starbucks Launches Digital Network – 6 Steps to Safer WiFi Use, Like Lambs to the Slaughter? Firesheep Lets Anyone be a WiFi Hacker and Google’s WiFi Data Collection Larger than Previously Known for more information about the risks with unprotected wireless networks.)

“Computer users can run into online threats regardless of where they might be connected and what device they’re using,” said Marian Merritt, Norton Internet Safety Advocate.  “However, on a Wi-Fi network, there are other risks consumers can run into, like ‘evil twin’ networks that trick people into connecting to unknown networks, giving cybercriminals access to their computer and its contents.  Consumers should ensure they’re connecting to a legitimate network, using the access keys or portal given to them by the Wi-Fi provider.”

Mobile Use

Particularly sobering are the study’s mobile use findings that show, users aren’t taking steps to protect themselves or their data.  Only 22.2% back up personal data stored on their phones despite using them to keep private information such as personal contacts, calendars and e-mail.

Surprisingly, more than 64% said they always or sometimes read an application developer’s privacy policy before downloading an app on their phones. Yet, only 5.7% believe they store passwords or account numbers in their apps.

Driving home the message that you must protect your internet connected devices

Unlike your toaster, the internet is not a plug-it-in-and-go experience.

  • It requires installing, or turning on security software onto your devices – and then setting the software to auto-update so it keeps your safety level current.
  • It requires creating strong passwords to log-in to the computer.
  • It requires ensuring any WiFi connection is password protected.
  • It requires changing passwords periodically
  • It requires getting educated on how to avoid scams, spam, and protect your privacy.

It also requires that you step up to your civic duty of protecting others. An infected device is the digital equivalent of Typhoid Mary – you may not intend to send infected documents, or be part of a botnet spewing spam and scams, contributing to denial of service attacks, or spreading viruses, but if you haven’t taken security precautions to keep your devices clean, you are part of the problem.

The full study can be found here.