Secure digital transactions top priority for Singapore

Citizens aware of security risks and value convenience in online and mobile transactions, but dangerous behavior among country's Web community remains, reveals new PayPal study.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Security and convenience are at the top of Singaporeans' mind when it comes to online and mobile transactions, but they also have risky habits of sharing information online and using the same passwords across multiple accounts.

According to a new study by PayPal, 91 percent of Internet users here were concerned about personal and financial information they shared online, yet, half admitted to not knowing how many Web sites held their personal details. With digital lifestyles becoming popular alongside the increasing potential of online identity theft and fraud, 88 percent of respondents said they wanted a more secure way to transact online.

Commissioned by the Web payment company's local office, in collaboration with Singapore's National Crime Prevention Council, the online survey was conducted by The Nielsen Company from Jul. 26 to Aug. 7 this year. It garnered 1,003 responses from Singaporeans aged 18 or above who transacted online or through their mobile devices in the past three months.

PayPal also noted that Singapore online shoppers were concerned about sharing financial information, with 55 percent indicating they were uncomfortable sharing their credit card, debit card or bank account details online. Some 80 percent of respondents said they would spend only between US$1 and US$76 on an unfamiliar Web site, but over 50 percent said they would spend more than US$382 on a familiar Web site.

With the growing adoption of smartphones, nearly 7 out of 10 respondents indicated that using their mobile device would be faster and more convenient because they could make a transaction "anytime, anywhere". However, nearly two thirds of mobile shoppers had previously stopped a mobile transaction in the past due to the hassle of entering financial details on a small screen, according to PayPal.

Yet, majority of respondents who used their mobile device to transact were only willing to spend between US$1 and US$76 on one single transaction, demonstrating that consumers were still unwilling to transact higher amounts on their mobile phones because of security considerations.

In addition, 61 percent were concerned they would expose financial details if they lost their mobile device, while 57 percent said it was difficult to do an online transaction on a mobile device due to long loading time and were unsure if the Web sites could fit smaller screen resolution. Also, 48 percent felt that mobile devices were not installed with security features, noted the study, highlighting key concerns respondents had about transacting via their mobile devices.

Risky behavior persists
As more Singaporeans embraced online shopping, Internet banking, social networking and other online services, and requirements to log into several different systems and platforms increased, the study also found that 1 in 2 Singaporeans used the same passwords across multiple accounts.

According to Paypal, the finding suggested that many Internet users underestimated the threat from cybercriminals who would abuse this habit by stealing passwords from one site and attempting to replicate them across others to steal a person's entire digital identity.

"Cybercrimes will become more prevalent if the public does not sty vigilant while communicating or transacting in the cyberworld," said Lum Hon Fye, chairman of infocomm technology committee at National Crime Prevention Council. "Education and knowledge is the key to Singaporeans remaining alert and staying one step ahead of cyber criminals. Assessing with whom and where they are sharing their personal information is an important first step."

Elias Ghanem, managing director of PayPal Southeast Asia and India, added: "Compared to Hong Kong and Australia where similar studies were conducted, Singaporeans demonstrated high awareness and concern for online and mobile transactions."

Compared to 91 percent of Singaporeans who were concerned about sharing personal information online, only 75 percent of Australia respondents and 35 percent of Hong Kong had similar concerns, Ghanem told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

Although the percentage of Singaporeans who used the same password across multiple accounts, at 50 percent, was lower than Australia at 70 percent and Hong Kong at 69 percent, it was "still a worrying number", he noted.

The PayPal executive explained that Singapore's physical environment was relatively safe and people tended to let their guard down even online. However, he warned that cybercrime was "much more difficult to control", compared to crimes committed in physical environments which could be governed by the police.

"The responsibility of [ensuring] secure online transactions lies with everyone--public sectors, private sectors, buyers and sellers," Ghanem said. "Public and private sectors must work together to combat security and educate the public. Sellers must learn to foster trust and consumers must be careful shoppers."

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