Most Americans fail cybersecurity best practices, even after being hacked

Posted: Feb 24, 2017
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A recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that most Americans fail to follow security best practices, even after experiencing a form of data theft or fraud.

Pew studied more than 1,000 American adults last year to gain insight into their attitudes toward cybersecurity and the measures taken to keep online data protected, finding that 64% had directly fallen victim to some sort of fraud or data theft.

  • 41% of Americans have experienced fraudulent charges on their credit cards.
  • 35% have received notices that some type of sensitive information had been compromised.
  • 16% say that someone has taken over their email accounts, and 13% say someone has taken over one of their social media accounts.
  • 15% have received notices that their Social Security number had been compromised.
  • 14% say that someone has attempted to take out loans or lines of credit in their name.
  • 6% say that someone has impersonated them in order to file fraudulent tax returns.

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When it comes to protecting their data, many lack confidence in the abilities of various institutions and entities, ranging from telecommunications firms to credit card companies. Fears are especially apparent for two institutions in particular: the federal government and social media platforms. Most Americans believe their personal data has become less secure in recent years.

Despite the skepticism about whether these institutions can adequately protect their personal information, and the fact that the majority of those surveyed having personally experienced a major data breach, a sizeable share of the respondents admit that they do not always incorporate cybersecurity best practices into their personal digital lives.

Most (84%) rely on memorizing passwords or writing them down as the main way of keeping their information safe and just 12% have used software to manage their passwords. Many are putting themselves at risk by adopting password strategies that cybersecurity experts specifically recommend against:

  • 41% of online adults have shared the password to one of their online accounts with a friend or family member.
  • 39% say that they use the same (or very similar) passwords for many of their online accounts.
  • 25% admit that they often use passwords that are less secure than they’d like, because simpler passwords are easier to remember than more complex ones.

The respondents were not any more efficient at protecting information on their mobile devices: more than half have used potentially unsecure networks, with one fifth of these respondents using public networks for sensitive data exchange.

Despite these shortfallings, 69% are not worried about the security of their online passwords. On a broader scale, the majority of those surveyed (70%) expect there will be major cyberattacks on the nation’s public infrastructure within the next five years, and 62% believe the federal government is somewhat prepared to handle a cyberattack. However, it is worth taking into consideration that this survey was conducted prior to the exposure of some recent, high-profile data breaches, including the hacking of the DNC email system and the breach of Yahoo email accounts.


Looking to tighten up your cybersecurity standards? Check out some of our recent security advice articles here.