Study reveals worrying US online security perceptions

New research has revealed that, despite being aware of an increased threat of cyber-attacks, most Americans don’t believe they are at risk personally.

The revelation comes in a study by ReportLinker which surveyed a cross-section of the US population and unveiled some very disconcerting perceptions.

Confused views of Cyber-Attack risks

The survey came back two headline figures which are, on the face of it, confused and contradictory. They found that two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that the threat posed by cyber-attacks was greater now than it was five years ago.

But despite this acknowledgment, 55% also said they felt that their own data was safe from hackers.

The reason for these seemingly contradictory views is the way most people access information about cyber-attacks. Most people learn about cyber-attacks when they hit the news headlines. That means that incidents like the hacking of Sony or Yahoo!, and the more recent ransomware attack on the San Francisco Transport system are how they perceive cyber-attacks.

It, therefore, makes sense that many of those people hold the view that cyber-attacks are a threat to big business and infrastructure rather than individuals.

Further data backs this up. Just over a third (36%) of respondents expressed a view that cyber-criminals only attacked government bodies, and 46% of 45-54-year-olds and 39% of those aged over 65 thought big business was the main focus.

Internet of Things risks

The survey also asked about the perceived security risk of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and other such connected devices.

Despite the fact that use of these devices is growing rapidly, and they often have little or no security built into them, only 31% of those asked said they were potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

That figure seems worryingly low. In contrast, 42% of respondents thought that smartphones were the most vulnerable device, while 46% opted for laptops and desktop computers.

Passwords

The survey also asked people about the passwords they used, and yet again the responses weren’t encouraging. The two most popular passwords amongst US citizens are, for the fifth year in a row, ‘123456’ and ‘password’.

Despite the fact that experts have continued to bang the drum about the need for strong, hard-to-decipher passwords, it is clear that the message is still not getting through to many people. If they were, people wouldn’t still be opting for passwords, which render the whole security process pointless in the first place.

Encryption usage

In the wake of these findings, it might be expected that when asked about the use of encryption and other privacy software, such as VPNs, usage statistics would be low. But actually, 58% of respondents said they did use some sort of encryption or privacy software.

Whilst this figure is not nearly high enough, it is nonetheless a little encouraging that more than half of those surveyed are taking steps to protect themselves.

However, before we get too excited, with the highest positive results coming for things like strong passwords and smartphone locks, the findings show there is still a lot of progress to be made.

These results should serve as a wake-up call for the industry. If they are going to get the message about cyber-security out to the general public at large, they need to redouble their message and make it clear that there is a threat to everyone, but solution such as a VPN are both cost effective and easy to use.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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