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Survey Shows Many Americans Are Cyber-Illiterate

More than nine in 10 Americans (94%) in a new survey have heard news stories about security breaches in the past 12 months, and most said they are worried about risks associated with activities as basic as use of public Wi-Fi hotspots and online shopping. However, a full 43% have not changed their online habits at all.

This suggests many Americans may not understand that they have a role in accountability when it comes to taking specific actions to safeguard their personal data, postulates a Tenable-commissioned survey by Harris Poll of more than 2,000 US adults. However, it also reflects a lack of realistic assessment as to the safety of their information. One-fifth (21%) said they aren’t sure if they have been impacted by security breaches in the past 12 months. Only 12% of Americans say their personal information has been stolen by hackers due to a security breach in the past 12 months.

“Given [that] the Equifax breach exposed sensitive data of as many as 143 million Americans, that number is statistically impossible,” the report pointed out. “Given the Yahoo! breach and countless others, this data suggests an alarming lack of understanding about the pervasiveness of recent breaches and the risks they pose to average Americans. It’s cyber illiteracy.”

Ironically, 37% of respondents said they think it’s likely their personal information will be stolen as a result of a security breach in the next six months. Additionally, it appears many Americans are worried about their personal information getting stolen as a result of some of the most common online activities. A full 63% are worried about their data getting stolen when connecting to public or unknown Wi-Fi hotspots, nearly three in five (58%) are worried about their personal information being stolen when online shopping, half (50%) are worried when banking online, and 35% are concerned when connecting with their friends/family through social media.

And yet, many Americans still have not taken some critical steps to protect their data. For example, only 25% have implemented two-factor authentication on their devices to protect their personal information in the past 12 months, even though security experts and major online services and technology companies like Facebook and Google strongly encourage it. Further, only a third (32%) have reduced their use of public Wi-Fi or unknown hotspots as a result of hearing about breaches.

Meanwhile, only 56% of Americans have used a password to lock their computer, and only 45% use a PIN to lock their mobile devices. Despite it being built into recent versions of the most popular mobile device in the country (iPhone), the use of biometrics is still not widespread, with only 19% of Americans reporting that they have implemented it on their devices in the past 12 months.

Many also don’t update their apps in a timely manner, with 14% of smartphone users waiting more than a week to update apps on their smartphones (or never doing it) after receiving a prompt. Meanwhile, 13% of computer users wait more than a week, including 3% and 5% who don’t update apps.

“The irony is that cyber poses an existential threat to our economy and to our very social fabric and safeguarding ourselves is therefore a shared responsibility,” the report noted. “Enterprises must lead the way by practicing fundamental hygiene and enforcing a basic standard of care for their customers’ data; but individuals must do their part, too—both as consumers and in many cases, as employees of those same enterprises—and that starts with cyber literacy.”

On the positive side, more than two in three Americans (68%) said they have avoided opening links/attachments from unsolicited emails or texts in the past 12 months. Roughly half of Americans (53%) say they have made their account passwords more complicated in the same time period, and 15% have used a password management tool.

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