2015 was a record-breaking year for cybercrime. A new study released this Friday shows that Americans just aren’t using the Internet like they used to – because it isn’t safe.
The study, conducted by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), pulls data from 41,000 American households and reveals how the overall sloppiness in data security is catching up to us as a country.
We’ve seen a lot of headlines lately about hacking and about the lack of security endemic to modern technology. The NTIA survey tells us that nearly half of American Internet users have stopped doing basic things online (expressing opinions in forums, posting to social networks, shopping) due to concerns about security and privacy.
It’s not just the occasional schmuck falling prey to Internet scams. A full 50% of all Internet users – worldwide – say they have been targeted by scams. One in ten have lost money to such scams.
If Americans stop trusting the Internet, what happens to companies that depend on online sales and transactions? What happens to the economy?
“Every day, billions of people around the world use the Internet to share ideas, conduct financial transactions, and keep in touch with family,” says NTIA policy analyst Rafi Goldberg. “But for the Internet to grow and thrive, users must continue to trust that their personal information will be secure and their privacy protected.”
But the truth is, that information is nowhere near protected. As I wrote last week, the state of Ohio “accidentally” released sensitive health information affecting thousands of former mental patients. People are even being scammed through online dating websites (click here to find out just how insecure your smartphone really is).
“Along with the more traditional-style scams, we are starting to see cybercriminals exploit and look for new ways to defraud consumers, making it even more important for Internet users to be on their guard when conducting online financial transactions or clicking on suspicious links pertaining to be from their bank,” says Ross Hogan, Global Head of Kaspersky Lab’s Fraud Prevention Division.
And while many people do not take steps to protect themselves from these threats, more than 60% of NTIA survey respondents cited identity theft as one of their primary concerns. About 50% mentioned banking or credit card fraud and 25% mentioned governmental data collection.
The survey also showed that an individual’s security risk increases with the number of connected devices he or she uses. Less than 10% of those with only one smartphone or computer reported an incident. That percentage increases threefold among those with five or more devices.
Still, most Americans do no more than clear their history or delete their cookies to protect against scams. As reported by the Washington Post, “the majority of Americans find it difficult to figure out the right tools and strategies to meaningfully enhance their privacy.” Instead of researching or hiring a professional, many of these individuals have simply limited their Internet use – a trend that could have serious consequences for online retailers and banks.
“NTIA”s initial analysis only scratches the surface of this important area, but it is clear that policymakers need to develop a better understanding of mistrust in the privacy and security of the Internet and the resulting chilling effects,” says Goldberg. “In addition to being a problem of great concern to many Americans, privacy and security issues may reduce economic activity and hamper the free exchange of ideas online.”