More to Fear Than Fear Itself: Online Threats and What You Can Do About Them

Anxiety is up regarding online security and there is good reason to be afraid. Conditions are worsening.

Every year more accounts are hacked and large scale breaches are discovered. In 2017 alone there were over 130 large-scale, targeted breaches in the U.S. According to a study by Accenture, that is a number that grew by over 25% in just one year. These breaches included massive and high profile attacks such as the Equifax breach which effected over 147 million consumers. Damages from cybercrime are also up and Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that these will reach $6 trillion annually by 2021.

In addition, in many ways, full-fledged cyber warfare has broken out on a global scale. Government endorsed hacking is occurring more frequently. The U.S. Department of Justice recently released a worldwide threat assessment outlining several examples of state-sponsored cyber attack. And NSA programs in the US are also stepping up their ability to collect citizen data.

While many people are struck with fear, they also seem paralyzed as they look for what they can do about it. A recent study examining how Americans feel about internet privacy  demonstrates that while concern about cyber crime is through the roof, the same nervousness has created a population so gripped in fear that they have done very little to combat the problem. In all, people in the US seem generally distrustful of how their data is being handled and feel a kind of fatalism about the idea that they have no control.

How Americans feel online

In general, people would like to know that the companies that handle their data are being responsible when it comes to protection and evolving threats, but they simply do not currently believe it. Over 50% of those studied demonstrated a distinct lack of confidence in how their data was protected. Fear is at a fever pitch with less than 7% of Americans feeling safer this year than last.

According to the same study, the majority of Americans are most concerned about hacking being leveled against their data by nefarious private sources. Only about half that many (about 25%) worry about corporate data sharing, and fewer still are concerned about foreign governments or their own. Overwhelmingly then, the fear is nameless and faceless, based mostly in the concept that if someone wants to take advantage of your data they likely have the means and opportunity.

Quelling your fears

For companies to more effectively lift consumers out of their fear, consumers should ask for better communication about what is being done strategically internally.

Some possible avenues that customers can begin to ask more forcibly are:

  • How a company demonstrates budgetary investment in cyber security.
  • Investing in simple security upgrades such as two-factor authorization.
  • Asking a company to provide tools to avoid common phishing scams and ways to improve password security.

As usual the best pressure is to vote with your wallet. Making it clear that companies with better security records are the only ones you do business with, will force those that are lagging to step up their game.

What people aren’t doing

Unfortunately, despite repeated warning and a clear elevated level of concern, it is not possible to have confidence that the general population is prepared to take even the smallest amount of personal precautions. Around 40% of people say they have taken almost no action to help themselves avoid cyber crime. And almost half of the population say they have not even considered basic actions like not clicking on a suspicious ad, reading a privacy policy, or changing their passwords regularly.

Clearly more needs to be done to educate the public on their risk and probably more avenues need to be taken to protect people from themselves.

Easy steps to take

Cyber security experts compare a standard level of personal safety concern to home security. The common adage is just because someone could break in, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock your doors and windows. While hackers are very sophisticated and have the ability to access nearly any information with enough effort, taking small precautions are better than throwing up your hands.

Everyone wants to be safe, but the concept is confusing online where consequences are couched in code. Here are some simple things to do even if you have limited time investment

  • Stop letting others track your online activity – There are ways to block outsiders from getting into your historic data.
  • Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – these make it so information on searching and history is obscured.
  • Only use secure HTTPS websites.
  • Make sure you update security and passwords for all devices and on social media regularly, using non-words or phrases for your password.

Just these relatively simple steps will allow consumers to avoid much of the risk currently associated with cyber crime. Make no mistake, cyber crime is a scourge. Ask more of yourself and the companies you work with to avoid becoming a statistic.

How Do Americans Feel About Online Privacy in 2018
How Do Americans Feel About Online Privacy in 2018

 


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