How safe are you online? Now you can find out

Oct 31, 2011 5:53pm

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

Is your computer set to automatically check for software and security updates? Do you type your name in search engines to see what personal information is online? Have you customized your security and personal information settings on social networks?

These are all ways to own your online presence by controlling privacy and security settings.

But according to a new Microsoft study, Americans aren’t doing all that they can to protect themselves and their families when they go online.

Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group recently studied online safety behavior and online security use among more than 2,000 Windows users in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Brazil.

Based on the research, Microsoft (an NCSA Board Member company) created the Microsoft Computing Safety Index (MCSI), a scoring system of more than 20 steps that can protect you online. The more steps you take, the higher your online safety score.

The highest rating possible is a 100. In 2011, the average score across the five countries was 34. The score shows that people are taking steps to help protect them online—but there is also opportunity to do more.

  • The scores are divided into three tiers: 80-100, 20-79 and 0-19. A score in the 80-100 range shows you are well-aware of the various threats—both existing and emerging—as well as the steps necessary to help guard against them.
  • A score in the 20-79 range suggests you may have the basics covered, but there are opportunities to learn about new and emerging threats, particularly in the social realm.
  • A score in the 0-19 range indicates you may not be taking advantage of the most basic – and oftentimes free – protections available.

One great aspect of the survey is that anyone can take it. The survey is online take and find out your score.

In the past, online threats were primarily technical in nature, such as viruses or malware on your computer. But now, online threats are evolving and becoming more social, such as phishing ads based on your online searches, stolen passwords, identity theft and cyberbullying.

Microsoft found that people across the globe are getting smarter about the “set and forget” precautions, such as installing anti-virus software and enabling automatic updates. But people aren’t actively managing security and privacy settings as frequently as they should to avoid social threats. Small steps, such as monitoring your privacy settings and limiting what personal information you put online, can help you control your online identity.

One of the key pieces of advice from the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign is own your online presence. Take the time to adjust settings to your comfort level of information sharing.