Cybersecurity: You're probably over-confident about your defences or under-prepared for a breach

In an age of seemingly ever increasing hacks and data breaches, what counts as enough when it comes to protecting yourself online?
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

The majority of internet users believe they're doing all they can to prevent themselves becoming a victim of data loss as a result of cyberattacks and data breaches – but whether their beliefs are really helping bolster cybersecurity remains unclear.

A survey by cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks and British pollster YouGov found that 68 percent of people believe they're doing all they can to protect themselves against cyberattacks. The Trust in the Digital Age report set out to examine the attitudes of the general public when it came to cybersecurity, privacy and technology in the modern world.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's the older generations which has more confidence about how they're protecting themselves online, with three quarters of those over 45 confident that they're doing all they can to protect against data loss.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The figure drops to 57 percent for those aged 18 to 24 – an age bracket which is traditionally viewed as digitally native and more clued up about cyber threats.

However, the higher confidence among older web users could be based on a naivety about the malicious threats that are out there on the internet, while younger users are aware of cybersecurity issues – but still aren't addressing them.

"You could have people in that age bracket who know a password manager may offer them more security, but they haven't got around to it yet," Jessica Barker, a cybersecurity expert who helped conduct the study told ZDNet.

"Whereas those people in the older bracket are less aware of those technical solutions, but feel as if they're being more secure without necessarily understanding there's more they could do."

Alternatively, it could also be that older people are more aware of the risks: "It could be that the older generation has taken more time and is more aware that cybercrime is an issue so they're being more risk averse on their internet use," Barker said.

But despite potential concerns about whether they're doing enough to protect themselves from cyberattacks, people remain sceptical about the idea of their online security being managed by artificial intelligence – just one in five people would prefer their cybersecurity to be managed by an AI, although over time that could change.

"When any new technology emerges, there is often a reticence among many to embrace the change, even when it offers an improvement to our way of life. Telephones, trains and televisions were all a source of fear for the general public when they were first introduced," said Dr Barker.

"Many people are unaware of the way in which AI and machine learning are already enabling our use of technology, protecting our data and preventing cyberattacks, largely because it is often non-invasive to the end-user. This can mean people feel hesitant about the concept of embracing AI and machine learning, without realising that it is already a positive presence in their lives."

The study also found that the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has had an impact on how consumers perceive cybersecurity and privacy, with 30 percent of web users agreeing that companies should provide even more transparency about how they collect and analyse data.

SEE: 10 tips for new cybersecurity pros (free PDF)

There's still a long way to go to protect users from falling victim to hacks, data breaches and cyberattacks, but Barker believes that consumers gaining a better understanding of cybersecurity – something their employers can help with – can only be a positive thing.

"Knowing more about cybersecurity is the most important factor in being able to stay safe online," she said.

"To enable people to better-protect themselves online and to enhance trust in the digital age, it is fundamental that we empower people with education whilst equipping them with the right technical tools to put that education into practice," Barker added.


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