Americans Feel Safer On A Computer Than A Mobile Device, According To Study

Americans feel their home computers are protected from viruses, malware and hackers but that confidence does not translate to their mobile devices with 87 percent of people surveyed reporting they feel safer going online with their PCs than with their phones, according to the 2010 National Cyber Security Alliance -- Norton by Symantec Online Safety Study released recently.  The study also finds that Americans' stated confidence with their PC's security might not be valid with less than half using the full protection they need to stay safe online.

The study shows that only 24 percent of Americans feel very safe and 61 percent feel somewhat safe that their home computers are protected. In comparison, only 18 percent of those polled feel their mobiles phones are very safe and 28 percent feel they are somewhat safe.  Interestingly, while Americans may say they feel protected on their home computers, they are experiencing a false sense of security. 

When asked, 58 percent reported they had a complete security software suite but when their computers were actually scanned for it, only 37 percent were fully protected.  This perception versus reality gap is a concern given that today's threats are complex, requiring comprehensive protection against online threats with a full security solution that includes antivirus, firewall, antispyware, spam filter, antiphishing and identity protection.

"We're encouraged that more Americans feel safe going online from their home computers," said National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Executive Director Michael Kaiser.  "We need to ensure that this is not a false sense of security and that a feeling of safety does not lead to complacency.  Americans need to remain vigilant and be sure that all Web-connected hardware has the proper security tools installed and is up to date.  In addition, the use of sound judgment and common sense online is necessary to protect personal information and reduce the loss of important data."

This year's study revealed just how much Americans are increasingly embracing the digital world.  Half of Americans now have two to three computers at home, with 74 percent owning a laptop or netbook.  All told, 31 percent said the laptop or netbook is their primary computer.  Nearly 17 percent can connect to the Internet via their TV, and 24 percent connect via a gaming device.  With the ever-increasing number of Web-enabled devices, Americans are dependent on multiple devices to connect to the Internet at home, work, school and play.

These multiple points of connection pose new security risks.  Wireless networks have reached high levels of adoption. The study found that 70 percent had a wireless router at home, but 43 percent admitted they have logged onto a wireless network without entering a password  --  a number that increases to 66 percent for 18 to 29 year olds.

"Computer users can run into online threats regardless of where they might be connected and what device they're using," said Marian Merritt, Norton Internet Safety Advocate.  "However, on a Wi-Fi network, there are other risks consumers can run into, like 'evil twin' networks that trick people into connecting to unknown networks, giving cybercriminals access to their computer and its contents.  Consumers should ensure they're connecting to a legitimate network, using the access keys or portal given to them by the Wi-Fi provider."

When it comes to mobile phones, computer users aren't taking the proper steps to protect themselves or their data.  Just 22.2 percent back up personal data stored on their phones despite using them to keep private information such as personal contacts, calendars and e-mail.

Surprisingly, more than 64 percent said they always or sometimes read a developer's privacy policy before downloading an app on their phones. Yet, only 5.7 percent believe they store passwords or account numbers in their apps and 23 percent believe they have ever used location-aware technology on their phones to track their whereabouts.  This is in contrast to a recent Mobile Marketing Association study that showed 63 percent of iPhone customers use location-based services once per week, hinting at consumer confusion about how their mobile devices use their data.

"This year's study further shows how we are all connecting to the Internet anywhere, anytime, anyhow," Kaiser said.  "The NCSA-Norton by Symantec study findings underline the need for the recently enacted STOP | THINK | CONNECT national awareness campaign that has unified a simple, actionable message developed by a coalition of more than 28 organizations, including NCSA and Symantec, and the federal government. We need to create a culture of online safety and security where more safely navigating the digital world becomes second nature in our daily lives."

Parents bear the most responsibility for teaching children online safety habits, report nearly 90 percent of Americans. Only seven percent think teachers and schools bear that main responsibility. 

This finding is interesting in light of new pressures K-12 school districts face in incorporating cyber education into their curricula. A NCSA-Microsoft study released earlier this year found that more than 97 percent of teachers, administrators and technology coordinators agreed cyber ethics, cybersafety and cybersecurity should be part of the required curricula.

When it comes to how old a child should be to have his or her own computer, opinions were divided roughly into thirds. About 31 percent said a child should be between ages 4 and 9, while 28 percent identified ages 10 to 13 as most appropriate. Another 30 percent said a child should be older than 13. This lack of consensus might make it difficult for parents to know how and when their children are online if their children's friends live in households that have differing views on the age when children should have their own computer.

Just 5.1 percent feel the Internet is safer today than it was a year ago.  Sixty-eight percent feel it's about the same, while 21.2 percent think it's less safe. Half of Americans say they are most concerned about identity theft of all the possible things that could happen to them online. Yet, in terms of keeping the Internet safe most feel it's the individual and not the government who bears the most responsibility. More than 44 percent said individual users shoulder the burden for keeping the Internet safe and secure, while nearly 30 percent identified Internet security providers.  Just 4 percent feel government, and 3.4 percent law enforcement carry the main responsibility. 

The complete study can be found at

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