Using a computer without security is riskier than leaving your home or car unlocked, according to a new study from Webroot, a leader in delivering Internet security as a service. In a survey of 1,637 Internet users aged 18 and older, Webroot asked respondents to gauge the perceived threat level of dangerous offline behaviors, such as driving without a seatbelt or automobile insurance, versus risky online behaviors like sharing an online password or using an unsecured WiFi connection.
With reliance on the Internet continuing to rise, the majority of respondents view many online risks to be just as dangerous – and in some cases more risky – when compared with offline behaviors that could lead to bodily harm, theft or financial damage.
- Using a computer without security software is seen as riskier than leaving the door to one's home or car unlocked. 85 percent say using a computer without security is high-risk, while 82 and 83 percent think leaving one's car or front door unlocked (respectively) is high-risk.
- Sharing a password is nearly as risky as driving without a seatbelt or driving without automobile insurance. 85 percent feel sharing a password is high-risk, versus 87 and 88 percent for driving without a seatbelt and driving without insurance (respectively).
- Making a credit card purchase from an unknown website is riskier than sharing personal information over the phone. 75 percent perceive the online purchase as high-risk, but only 65 percent feel the same amount of risk when disclosing information over the phone.
- Adults feel more threatened opening an email attachment from an unknown person than arranging an in-person meeting with someone they've met online. 81 percent viewed the email attachment as high-risk, but only 72 percent feel the same level of risk about an in-person meeting.
"It is encouraging to see that people are aware of the risks posed by online threats," said Jacques Erasmus, chief information security officer, Webroot. "Today's Internet users share an increasing amount of personal information online, and cybercriminals target security loopholes and careless practices to carry out everything from credit fraud to identity theft. Our findings show that people are cognizant of these risks, and savvier about the importance of practicing safe online behaviors."
The study also revealed that in today's digital world, consumers place significant importance on their devices:
- 61 percent of respondents say that a lost laptop, tablet or netbook is about the same or worse as having your wallet or purse stolen.
- 46 percent say a lost or stolen mobile phone or smartphone is about the same or worse.
Several disconnects emerged as well:
- 18- to 29-year-olds are more mobile, yet they are less concerned about mobile security risks. 82 percent of respondents under 30 own a smartphone, but only 36 percent think it's very or extremely risky to use a mobile device without security.
- When it comes to identity theft, 94 percent of respondents feel that online threats pose an equal or greater risk than offline threats, yet one in 20 (five percent) aren't using any security software and one in four (25 percent) are using free software exclusively.
- The majority of respondents (70 percent) feel there's limited risk in using public WiFi connections.
Other scenarios reveal that respondents are nearly as scared of social embarrassment as they are of bodily harm or theft:
- Texting while drinking alcohol poses about the same risk as riding a bicycle without a helmet (50 percent versus 52 percent view it as high-risk). Respondents in the United States believe texting while drinking is even more risky than riding a bicycle without a helmet (62 percent versus 49 percent).
- More than half of respondents (59 percent) believe it would be just as bad or worse to have someone view their browsing history without their permission as to have someone steal documents or mail from their trash.
- Men are significantly more concerned with their online privacy than women; nearly twice as many males think someone viewing their browsing history would be worse than document theft (16 percent versus nine percent).
What Can Users Do?
To help consumers understand online risks and practice safe behaviors, Webroot security experts recommend the following:
- Phone home safely – Mobile malware is on the rise, especially on Android devices, so take a moment to swing by the marketplace or app store to install a mobile security application that will safeguard your device against attacks. Many security apps can also help you locate your phone if it is lost or stolen.
- Be wary of WiFi - It can be tempting to take advantage of free WiFi access points in airports, hotels or cafes, but resist the urge to use those connections to do anything other than browse. Unsecured wireless connections can leave you vulnerable to a variety of risks, from data-stealing malware to wireless snooping of your logins or email messages by other travelers and guests.
- Be strict about passwords. Use a different password for each site on which you have an account; do not allow your browser to store passwords for you; and use a password manager instead of writing down passwords or storing them in a Word document in order to remember them. Incorporating numbers, letters and special characters like !, $, and * into your password makes it stronger. Webroot also recommends changing your password at regular intervals, and never use the same password at more than one site.
- Keep your guard up. Social networks, instant messengers, and email are all rife with social engineering – a technique used by cybercriminals to trick you into divulging confidential information or infecting your own PC. When in doubt don't click on unknown links from people even if the sender is a friend or relative. To further protect yourself, only accept friend requests from people you know.
- Wear a bike helmet – Use your head and practice safe behaviors, whether you're online or on the road. It's a risky world out there. Stay safe.
About the Research
An online survey was fielded March 8 through March 13, 2012 using Qualtrics survey software. Research Now invited panel members in Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States to complete a 10-minute survey. Participants qualified if they were 18 or older, had at least one Internet-connected device, and spent an average of one or more hours online each day outside of work or school. The margin of error at the 95 percent level of confidence is ±2.4 percentage points for the total sample of 1,637 and ±4.0 points for the 609 US respondents.