NCSA/Norton by Symantec Online Safety Study released today

Oct 28, 2010 10:57am

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

NCSA and Norton by Symantec released their annual Online Safety Studysometimes referred to as the home user study.

Some interesting results are always uncovered in this study, which has been a signature effort during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month for many years.  What makes this study a bit different than others is that we both ask what people are doing to stay safe online  and then scan ( with their permission of course) their computers to check see how what they say they are doing translates to action.  Over the next couple of weeks we will post some blogs with discussions of particular findings. This post addresses some of the major findings.

The study shows that only 24 percent of Americans feel very safe and 61 percent feel somewhat safe that their home computers are protected. In comparison, only 18 percent of those polled feel their mobiles phones are very safe and 28 percent feel they are somewhat safe.  Interestingly, while Americans may say they feel protected on their home computers, they are experiencing a false sense of security.  When asked, 58 percent reported they had a complete security software suite but when their computers were actually scanned for it, only 37 percent were fully protected defined as having comprehensive protection against online threats with a full security solution that includes antivirus, firewall, antispyware, spam filter, antiphishing, and identity protection.  This perception versus reality gap is a concern given that today's threats are complex and people are doing more and more on the Internet every day.

It’s great that more Americans feel safe going online from their home computers but that can’t translate into complacency.  Being vigilant is critical. All Web-connected hardware has to have the proper security tools installed.  In addition, the use of sound judgment and common sense online is necessary to protect personal information and reduce the loss of important data. This concept is also the basis of the new STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign now underway by government, industry and nonprofits.

This year's study revealed just how much Americans are increasingly embracing the digital world.  Half of Americans now have two to three computers at home, with 74 percent owning a laptop or netbook.  All told, 31 percent said the laptop or netbook is their primary computer.  Nearly 17 percent can connect to the Internet via their TV, and 24 percent connect via a gaming device.  With the ever-increasing number of Web-enabled devices, Americans are dependent on multiple devices to connect to the Internet at home, work, school, and play.
These multiple points of connection come with new security risks. The study found that 70 percent had a wireless router at home, but 43 percent admitted they have logged onto a wireless network without entering a password – a number that increases to 66 percent for 18 to 29 year olds.

Given the rapid growth of web-enabled mobile devices, this year we expanded the questions around security and mobile web browsing. Just 22.2 percent 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 percent said they always or sometimes read a developer's privacy policy before downloading an app on their phones. Yet, only 5.7 percent believe they store passwords or account numbers in their apps and 23 percent believe they have ever used location-aware technology on their phones to track their whereabouts. This is in contrast to a recent Mobile Marketing Association study that showed 63 percent of iPhone customers use location-based services once per week, hinting at consumer confusion about how their mobile devices use their data.

What do you do to stay safe and secure?