Results of a comprehensive consumer online security research study

The National Cyber Security Alliance and McAfee announced the results of a comprehensive consumer online security research study. The report reveals a significant gap between consumers’ perceptions that they — and their computers — are protected from various Internet threats used by cyber criminals, while in reality, people were either unprotected or under- protected.

The McAfee-NCSA Online Safety Study shows that while consumers think they are protected (93 percent feel safe from viruses), they are actually at risk because of outdated security software on their computer that doesn’t protect them from new malware created everyday.

“The good news is that our survey reveals a growing awareness of the need for online security,” said Todd Gebhart, senior vice president and general manager, McAfee Consumer, Mobile and Small Business. “Unfortunately, there are still many consumers who remain vulnerable to threats like spyware, phishing, hackers and risky Web sites that can infect their computers with a wide range of malicious software. Clearly we have a long way to go to educate consumers about online security to prevent them from being victims of cyber criminals, identity thieves and other dangerous threats.”

High Awareness of the Need for Online Security

Nearly all consumers (98 percent) who responded to the survey agreed keeping online security up-to-date is important. To address these concerns, consumers told researchers they had taken the following measures:

  • 87 percent said they use anti-virus software
  • 73 percent use a firewall
  • 70 percent use anti-spyware software
  • 27 percent use anti-phishing software

Outdated Security and Malware Infections

While nearly every survey respondent (98 percent) acknowledged the importance of having up to date security on their computer, nearly half of all scanned computers (48 percent) had not been updated within the month. Survey respondents also acknowledged they had been infected with malware:

  • 54 percent had been hit with a virus
  • 44 percent thought they were infected with spyware

Consumers THINK They Are Protected When They Are Vulnerable

When researchers were able to conduct a remote scan of consumers’ computers, their findings revealed a significant gap between perception versus reality, where consumers thought they were protected, when in fact, they were not. In particular, the following results illustrate this disparity:

  • While 81 percent have a firewall installed on their computer, only 64 percent actually activated this anti-hacker protection
  • While 70 percent of respondents say they have anti-spyware software, 55 percent actually did
  • While 27 percent say they have anti-phishing protection, 12 percent actually do

The Need for Cyber Security Education

Both the survey and the scan revealed additional examples that demonstrate how consumers remain ill-informed about online security.

  • One in four respondents (25 percent) had never heard of the term “phishing” and nearly half (46 percent) could not accurately define phishing
  • While four out of five online experiences begin with a search engine, 78 percent do not know how to evaluate the safety of Web sites found through an online search, despite the fact that free tools are available that rate the relative safety of search results
  • While 98 percent of respondents say it is important to know whether a Web site is safe before visiting it, 64 percent had no idea how to determine whether a Web site is safe

Don't miss