Do the Irish think they’re safe online?

Time and again we’ve discussed how, no matter what sort of antivirus protection people use, they themselves are still the weakest link in cyber-security. Clicking on things, running programs or visiting links they shouldn’t, exposing themselves to risks constantly.

At ESET Ireland we’re trying to find out why that is the case. And one way we went about it is by trying to establish what Irish computer users even perceive as an online threat and how likely they think it is that something will happen to them.

We conducted a survey, carried out on our behalf by Amárach research, which presented 852 people of all ages and from all parts of Ireland with the following six statements:

1.     My computer can be crashed or caused to malfunction by viruses or malware.
2.     Computer viruses or other malware can infect my computer/ steal data/ cause damage.
3.     Someone could hack into my email or social media and contact my friends pretending to be me.
4.     I could be cheated by scam emails or fraudulent social media messages.
5.     My private information/ credit cards/ identify could be stolen or misused online.
6.     Someone could access my computer online to steal my data/ turn my computer into a malware or spam dispatching bot.

Then we asked them to rate each of the statements with whether this has already happened or how likely it is to happen and the results were quite surprising.

As it turns out 1 in 4 Irish computer users has already had their computer crashed or otherwise damaged by viruses or malware. 1 in 5 has had their computer infected or data stolen. 14% were hacked or had their social media accounts hijacked. And nearly every tenth person was cheated, had their credit cards or private info abused or their system was used to unknowingly dispatch spam.

What is even more interesting is that over 40% of people believe any of that could easily happen to them. This could mean several things. Either they mistrust their antivirus protection or are aware that their security practices are not adequate compared to the sorts of threats they’re facing. On the other hand less than 4% believe none of those could ever happen to them, while about a third believe it’s either not easy or very unlikely that they’d become a victim.

Some more interesting details come from demographics of the surveyed. While males and females were targeted indiscriminately and in equal proportions, it was the younger population (age group 15-24) that experienced most computer crashes, virus infections and online and social media personality theft, while the older population (age group 45-54) had the most experience of having data stolen or credit cards abused. This can possibly be explained by speculating on how each of these groups use computers. For the young it’s mainly gaming, entertainment and social media: thus pirated games, music and movies infect them with malware, while social interactions make them victims of identity theft. Adults, however, tend to shop and bank online more, thus potentially exposing their financial details to abuse.

What conclusions to make from all this? Well, these questions only revealed the attitude people have towards threats and do not really reflect what actions they take to try to prevent them. But one thing is certain. Awareness of online threats has finally reached a point where even if they’re fortunate enough not to have been a victim yet, the majority know that a great variety of threats exist out there and that everyone is targeted and could come under attack.

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