A large portion of the American public is not convinced the federal government and social media sites will safeguard their personal information from hackers, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.
But at the same time, many are failing to follow digital security best practices for themselves. The survey of 1,040 adults, conducted in the spring of 2016, found that most Americans have “have directly experienced some form of data theft or fraud.”
Some 28 percent of Americans are “not confident at all” that the federal government can keep their personal information safe from the prying eyes of unauthorized users, and 24 percent lack any confidence that social media sites can either. Just 12 percent of Americans, and 9 percent of social media users, are very confident these organizations can secure their personal information.
But despite these low levels of confidence in the government and social media services, Pew found that most Americans forego basic security measures, like using a password manager. Sixty-five percent of Internet users said they keep track of their passwords in their head, and another 18 percent write them down on a piece of paper.
Moreover, 41 percent of online adults have shared a password with a friend or family member, 39 percent said they re-use passwords for many of their accounts, and 25 percent know their passwords aren’t as secure as they could be (“123456,” anyone?). A good portion of people can’t seem to be bothered with mobile security either: 28 percent don’t use a screen lock, 10 percent never install updates, and 54 percent use insecure public Wi-Fi networks, Pew found. Worse yet: one in five who use public Wi-Fi networks perform sensitive activities like e-commerce or online banking while connected to them.
On a more positive note, Pew found that more than half of online adults (52 percent) now use two-step authentication on at least one account. When it comes to encryption, people are divided: 46 percent believe the government should be able to access encrypted communications while 44 percent say tech companies should be able to use tools that are uncrackable even by law enforcement.
The survey also revealed that “cybersecurity is not a top-of-mind worry for most Americans,” Pew said. Seventy percent expect a major cyberattack affecting our nation’s public infrastructure, banking, or financial systems in the next five years, but the majority believe the government and US businesses are “at least somewhat” prepared to deal with these attacks.