Public-private awareness initiative developed

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Ninety-six percent of Americans feel a personal responsibility to be safer and more secure online, yet many lack the knowledge of how to do so, according to a new survey. 

The national online survey of 1,007 U.S. adults, conducted as part of new public-private effort to develop an online safety awareness campaign geared toward the general public, also found that 93 percent of respondents believe their online actions can protect friends and family and also can help make the internet safer for everyone around the world.

However, 90 percent of respondents want to learn more about how to be safe online.

When asked why they do not always do what they can or should do to stay safe online, most respondents said they lacked the information or knowledge about how to do so. Fewer said it was too expensive or that they were too busy.

That is where a new public awareness campaign might help. A new convention, with support from the public and private sector, has been established to develop cybersecurity–related messaging for the general public.

The convention is headed up by the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), whose mission is to empower citizens to use the internet securely, and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (AWPG), a global coalition focused on eliminating identity theft and fraud resulting from phishing. Members include 22 businesses and seven federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FBI, PayPal, Symantec and Microsoft.

There have been a number of ad-hoc efforts in the past to engage users in cybersecurity, resulting in a lot of different advice and messages, NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser told SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday. Consequently, users may be confused about what they can do to stay safe online.

The goal of the new initiative is to harmonize and formalize the message to create a national campaign with standard tips and advice — much like what the Smokey the Bear campaign did for forest fires, he said.

Further, the convention hopes to make its messaging suite widely available so numerous groups and organizations can adopt it, Kaiser said. The group plans to unveil the campaign in October, which is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

The survey, conducted by Heart+Mind Strategies, also found that Americans feel safest online when they are taking action for their own internet security. Additionally, 61 percent of respondents believe that much of online safety and security falls under their personal control.

“People get there is a problem," Kaiser said. "They see they play a role in solving the problem and they are willing to participate. That is a great place to start.”

According to the survey, consumers consider the loss of personal and financial information as concerning as the loss of a job and health care. Additionally, identity theft ranked as Americans' top cybersecurity fear, followed by having their financial information hacked.

“Losing their identity, personal or financial information to a criminal gang is a daunting fear for Americans,” APWG Secretary General Peter Cassidy said in a statement. “It's no wonder that many Americans are already taking steps to protect their online lives. Still, our findings bear out that consumers are also anxious to learn more about what to do to take control of their digital lives. Clearly, they crave personal control.”

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