Despite phishing schemes, spyware, and other internet security threats, an overwhelming majority of Americans claim to feel safe online, according to a recent poll sponsored by StopBadware.org, a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
The Zogby International poll, which queried 6,678 people, found that 88 percent of internet users feel safe while using their personal computers to get online, while 84 percent believe they have the tools to protect themselves. In addition, half of the respondents under age 30 believed they were very safe.
“We were a bit surprised by the results,” Maxim Weinstein, manager of StopBadware.org, told SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday. “While we’re glad that Americans are comfortable online, the overwhelming sense of safety indicated by this poll just doesn’t match up with either the reality of online risk or the extent of media and legislative attention lately to identity theft and other privacy and security issues.”
This poll emphasized research done by McAfee and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). McAfee and NCSA scanned consumer computers to see if the PCs were properly protected with anti-virus and anti-spyware software and firewalls, and found that 78 percent of the computers were inadequately protected.
“The perception of users is that they are safe, but the reality is they are not,” said Ron Teixeira, executive director of NCSA. Many users feel that as long as they have some type of protection, like anti-virus software, they are just fine.
“But if you are missing anti-spyware software or a firewall, you aren’t fully protected,” he added.
Another factor is that malware authors are getting increasingly sophisticated.
“A year or two ago, many adware and spyware applications were annoying, pop-up-laden pieces of software that attracted a user’s attention,” said StopBadware.org’s Weinstein. “Now, drive-by downloads silently install spyware and bots that run in the background, often without the computer user’s knowledge. Thus, users may feel safe even while their machines are compromised.”
Weinstein and Teixeira agree that the results of these polls show the growing need for better education about online security risks. Both attended a Federal Trade Commission roundtable on April 1 to discuss strategies on how to get information to consumers about the dangers of phishing and other online risks.
“One of the big takeaways was the need for clear, simple, repetitive messaging delivered via a number of different methods across industries and sectors,” said Weinstein. “I think our poll results show a clear need for awareness education. We need to get out the message that internet privacy and security require a bit more effort than people may realize.”