Online safety is a personal priority for Americans

Aug 10, 2010 10:45am

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

In a press release today, the National Cyber Security Alliance and the APWG announced the results of research we conducted in collaboration with as part of a joint effort to create a unified consumer message to stay safe and secure online. This APWG/NCSA program started because both organizations had come to the realization that the consumer Internet safety and security space is overcrowded with ideas, tips, and information. There was a tremendous need to work in collaboration to harmonize the messaging and advice we give so computer users would feel confident with the steps they need to take to be safer and more secure online.

We knew we couldn’t do it alone as just two organizations with a good idea. The goal was to build a broad coalition that could bring expertise and a commitment to use the messages that developed with their constituencies and customers. The response was tremendous bringing together 22 companies and seven federal agencies working side-by-side on the project.

We also wanted to do it right. For us that meant setting out on a diligent course to understand where everyday computer users stood on these issues. The research, conducted in early summer with 1,007 Americans, uncovered some interesting information to guide us forward.

Ninety-six percent of Americans feel a personal responsibility to be safer and more secure online, while 93 percent said that their online actions can protect not only friends and family, but also help to make the Web safer for everyone around the world.  The study also revealed the need for simple, easy-to-understand, actionable resources and tips to help ensure their safety and security online. Access to this type of information would equip and empower them to make more-informed decisions – even before they go online, the poll revealed.

Americans feel most vulnerable about the loss or theft of their personal or financial information. Fifty-four percent of Americans said the prospect of losing this data “extremely concerned” them (based on a rating of eight or higher on a 10-point scale).  Losing personal or financial information ranked similar to concern over job loss (53 percent) and not being able to provide healthcare for their family (51 percent).
In terms of specific risks within the online threat landscape, identity theft ranked as the chief fear. Nearly a third of Americans (31 percent) reported identity theft as their greatest concern to personal safety and security on the Internet. The fear of someone hacking into their financial information or accounts ranked a close second, with a quarter of Americans listing it as their greatest worry.

According to our good friend and collaborator APWG Secretary General Peter Cassidy, “Losing their identity, personal or financial information to a criminal gang is a daunting fear for Americans, one that ranks with job security and access to health care. It’s no wonder that many Americans are already taking steps to protect their online lives. Still, our findings bear out that consumer are also anxious to learn more about what to do to take control of their digital lives. Clearly, they crave personal control.”

When asked why they don’t always do all the things they can or should do to stay safer online, most Americans said they simply lacked the information or knowledge (28 percent) – a surprising finding that surpassed other hurdles often cited by the media.  Only 12 percent said online safety was too expensive, while just 5 percent said they were too busy to take the extra step.

This research is the first step. Expect much more to come in terms of messaging and opportunities to join the campaign in the near future.

SSO (stay safe online),