Digital Safety Advice is Not Getting Through to Women

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New research from King’s College London (KCL) has revealed a major gender gap in the provision and effectiveness of online safety advice and technology.

Presented at the Usenix Security Symposium 2023, the research is based on a poll of 600 UK adults, half of whom were women, about their preferred ways of receiving online privacy and security advice.

It found that 76% of women mainly seek online safety advice in-person from family members versus less than a quarter (24%) of men, while 70% of men get their advice from online sources compared to just 38% of women.

The researchers argued that there’s no guarantee family members have the requisite skills and knowledge to provide the correct information and enable learning. Digital safety advice presented online is failing to reach the majority of women, potentially leaving them without the skills they need to stay protected, they added.

The report also found that women are more likely to rely on simple or built-in online protections like privacy settings, security software updates and strong passwords, while men appear to be more comfortable with a wider variety of more sophisticated technologies, including firewalls, VPNs, anti-spyware and anti-malware tools, and multi-factor authentication.

Read more on women and cybersecurity: At Least 30% of “Cyber-Criminals” Are Women: Report

Lead author of the research, Kovila Coopamootoo, argued that although women make up over half of the population, they’re not able to effectively engage with digital safety advice and security or privacy technologies.

“The stark gender gap in access and participation, evidenced in our research, highlights the gender norms at play in online safety and the role that gender identity plays in staying safe online,” she added.

“This research stresses the need for a gender lens when it comes to assessing online safety opportunities and whether they are configured for and serving the whole population, including women and girls.”

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