Protecting your online information isn’t impossible, though more than half of Americans seem to think it is

Erin Nelson 2 Aug 2017

While half of those surveyed feel their data is less safe today than 5 years ago, Pew Research Center found that 84% don't follow cybersecurity best practices.

Last year, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 1,040 American adults about their cybersecurity beliefs, attitudes, and practices. What emerged is a collective persona both fascinating and troubling. While 64% of those surveyed have online accounts with sensitive health, banking, or financial information and 64% have also experienced a major data breach, an even greater percentage of these same adults practice lax if any cybersecurity.

Password management is one area of online security in which widely varying practices emerged. 84% of American adults rely either on memory or pen-and-paper to store passwords, probably the least reliable, least secure practice there is. But at the same time, more than half have used the recommended 2-factor authentication, do not share passwords with friends or family, and do not use the same password across different sites. Though nearly two-thirds of those surveyed have experienced data loss, theft, or misuse, 69% say that they do not worry about password security.

Mobile security is another area where adults’ practices don’t necessarily reflect their experiences with data breaches. More than 25% of those with smartphones don’t lock their screens, and almost as many fail to update apps or operating systems on a regular basis, to patch security holes. However, most of those surveyed say they don’t trust most government, banking, commerce, or social media sites, among others, to keep their information secure. But if those surveyed don’t trust these entities to keep their data safe, yet aren’t concerned enough to secure the data themselves … then what’s happening?

The answer may lie in previous surveys run by Pew, which showed that a sizable chunk of the population feels they’ve lost control of their personal information and just cannot keep it safe. With hacks large and small happening daily and the bigger ones, such as WannaCry, making headlines worldwide  online safety risks are ever-present.

And perhaps that’s part of the problem: staying safe has begun to seem impossible, yet people understandably aren’t willing to give up all they do online simply to avoid the problem. In fact, 70% of American adults think a major cyberattack  one crippling power grids, banking, or air traffic control, for instance  is inevitable within the next 5 years. Cybercrime seems, in a way, to now be seen as a force of nature, an insurmountable problem.

But help exists. Staying safe and private when you connect is far from impossible. Avast provides multiple desktop and mobile security tools, including free password management and ransomware protection. But even the best tools in the world won’t keep cyberattacks at bay if the people who need them most  in short, every one of us – simply give up and give in. Data breaches may be inevitable. But being a victim doesn’t have to be.

Image: Tim Gouw

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