Even though over 80% of email users are aware of the existence of bots, tens of millions respond to spam in ways that could leave them vulnerable to a malware infection, according to a Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) survey.
In the survey, half of users said they had opened spam, clicked on a link in spam, opened a spam attachment, replied or forwarded it – activities that leave consumers susceptible to fraud, phishing, identity theft and infection. While most consumers said they were aware of the existence of bots, only one-third believed they were vulnerable to an infection.
Less than half of the consumers surveyed saw themselves as the entity who should be most responsible for stopping the spread of viruses. Yet, only 36% of consumers believe they might get a virus and 46% of those who opened spam did so intentionally.
This is a problem because spam is one of the most common vehicles for spreading bots and viruses. The malware is often unknowingly installed on users’ computers when they open an attachment in a junk email or click on a link that takes them to a poisoned Web site.
Younger consumers tend to consider themselves more security savvy, possibly from having grown up with the Internet, yet they also take more risks. Among the survey’s key findings:
- Almost half of those who opened spam did so intentionally. Many wanted to unsubscribe or complain to the sender (25%), to see what would happen (18%) or were interested in the product (15%).
- Overall, 11% of consumers have clicked on a link in spam, 8% have opened attachments, 4% have forwarded it and 4% have replied to spam.
- On average, 44% of users consider themselves “somewhat experienced” with email security. In Germany, 33% of users see themselves as “expert” or “very experienced,” followed by around 20% in Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.A., 16% in Canada and just 8% in France.
- Men and email users under 35 years, the same demographic groups who tend to consider themselves more experienced with email security, are more likely to open or click on links or forward spam. Among email users under 35 years, 50% report having opened spam compared to 38% of those over 35. Younger users also were more likely to have clicked on a link in spam (13%) compared to less than 10% of older consumers.
- Consumers are most likely to hold their Internet or email service provider most responsible for stopping viruses and malware. Only 48% see themselves as most responsible, though in France this falls to 30% and 37% in Spain.
- Yet in terms of anti-virus effectiveness, consumers ranked themselves ahead of all others, except for anti-virus vendors: 56% of consumers rated their own ability to stop malware and 67% rated that of anti-virus vendors’ as very or fairly good. Government agencies, consumer advocacy agencies and social networking sites were among those rated most poorly.
The survey was conducted online between January 8 and 21, 2010 among over a thousand email users in the United States and over 500 email users in Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Participants were general consumers responsible for managing the security for their personal email address.
The full report is available in PDF format here.