With malware showing no signs of abating on social networks and continuous news of the privacy implications of sharing personal details through social media, it's no surprise users are making more efforts to reduce their risk of exposure in 2011. So indicate findings from Webroot, the first Internet security service company, in its third annual look into the security habits of social networkers.
In a survey of 4,000 social network users, Webroot assessed year-over-year trends in habits and behaviors such as usage of privacy settings, incidence of security attacks, and usage of certain data-sharing features. In addition, Webroot explored several emerging areas including self-reported addiction to social networks, beliefs about who is responsible for our security on social networks, and security measures taken while accessing social networks via mobile devices.
"Threats targeting social networks are continuously being regenerated in new versions so their makers can evade detection and spread their malicious programs relentlessly across users' accounts," said Jacques Erasmus, Webroot threat expert. "Over the last nine months, our threat intelligence network has detected more than 4,000 versions of the Koobface virus hit social network users. Cybercriminals continue to target social networks because they can quickly access a large pool of victims. But our findings show that people are becoming aware of this, and they're now savvier about safeguarding their devices and the personal information they share online."
Year over year, Webroot found:
Security attacks through social networks are becoming more prevalent.
- In the US the number of social networkers who experienced Koobface infections and other social network attacks climbed from 8% in 2009 to 13% in 2010 to 18% in 2011.
- In the United Kingdom the number of social networkers who experienced attacks on social networks jumped from 6% in 2009 to 12% in 2010 to 15% in 2011.
- Friend in distress scams jumped from 2% in 2009 to 14% in 2011 in the US; in the UK these scams increased from 6% in 2009 to 11% in 2011.
Social network users are becoming more careful about protecting their privacy.
- Between 2009 and 2011, the number of US social networkers who have never viewed or changed their privacy settings plummeted from 37% in 2009 to 8% in 2011.
- In the UK the percentage dropped from 31% in 2009 to 9% in 2011.
- Between 2009 and 2011, those who paid closer attention to their privacy focused the most on settings that:
- Restrict what people can see about them after finding them through a search
- Block their profile from being seen through public searches
- Block beacon Web sites
Several new trends emerge:
In addition to measuring year-over-year trends, Webroot investigated new behaviors and habits surfacing among today's increasingly connected social networkers. Findings include: Social network usage: How addicted are we?
- 54 percent of respondents feel some level of addiction to their social network of choice.
- 46 percent of respoindents visit their favorite social network several times a day or constantly.
- 18 percent visit once a day.
- 42 percent of those who visit their socials several times a day or constantly are accessing them from mobile devices
Millenials are the most addicted users, and also the most responsible when social networking on smartphones:
- 75 percent of Millennials (people between the ages of 18 and 34) feel addicted, versus 44 percent of older generations
- 54 percent of Millennials access their social network of choice several times a day or constantly from their smartphone or tablet.
- Over half (54%) of Millennials who own smartphones/tablets have security installed, with 'Lost/stolen device locator app' and 'free mobile/tablet security app' most common.
- Older generations are at greater risk for security issues on their smartphones/tablets; nearly 50 percent of those 35 and older don't have any security installed.
Is Mark Zuckerberg responsible for keeping our personal information safe on Facebook?
- 13 percent of respondents think so.
- 73 percent take personal responsibility for the security of their own information
- About 10 percent believe security companies are responsible for their privacy and personal information on social networks
What Can Users Do?
To help consumers understand and protect themselves from attacks, Webroot security experts recommend three key steps for safer social networking:
Be secure wherever you go - Whether you access your social network through your mobile device or your desktop computer, make sure you're protected with antimalware services from a reputable provider.
Be selective - Same goes with sharing information about your whereabouts: Whether you're heading to Cabo or in line at the grocery store, think twice about who can see your location.
Be skeptical - If a link looks like something your friend wouldn't send, he or she probably didn't. And offers that sound too good to be true probably are. Ensure you're not a victim of social engineering and help prevent the spread of malware by not clicking the link.
About the Research
Between June 3 and 8, 2011, Webroot sponsored an online survey of Internet users in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. The panel management company, Research Now, invited members who spend at least one hour per day online (outside of work or school) and have a profile on a social networking site. With a total of 3,949 respondents the margin of error is ±1.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Country-level margins of error are:
Australia: ±4.3 points (513 respondents)
United Kingdom: ±2.4 points (1,683 respondents)
United States: ±2.3 points (1,753 respondents)