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Do As We Say, Not As We Surf

Survey shows Americans talk the cyber security talk but too often fall prey to online scams

First, the good news: about half (47%) of American frequent Internet users polled in a recent Ponemon study believe that an online survey promising a prize at the end is likely a scam or an attempt to sell a particular product or service. The bad news, however, is that when those same respondents were presented with a test scenario and promised a prize, more than half (55%) said they would be more than willing to give up personal or financial data to participate.

A physical prize was the strongest bait for personal information, according to the study, but intangible offers for free antivirus software also motivated 53% of study participants to say they’d be willing to reveal sensitive information in exchange. Get-rich-quick opportunities got the thumbs-up from 53% of respondents, as well, followed by offers for free movies (48%) and online shopping registrations (46%). American Web surfers’ skepticism does seem to outweigh their charity, however. Only 31% of those polled would be willing to hand over personal data for the opportunity to make an online donation.

To help solicit the most honest answers possible, Ponemon asked survey participants about their own willingness to share information, and researchers also asked how willing the respondents thought their friends would be to give up data. The theory is that predictions of behavior projected onto a hypothetical, third person are actually a more accurate indicator of the subject’s own behavioral tendencies. Ironically, American survey participants said both they and their “friends” were equally likely to share sensitive data overall. That’s significantly different than the comparative findings overseas. In sister studies in both the U.K. and Australia, the subjects themselves said they were much stingier with their own information but believed their “friends” would be significantly less prudent.

The findings raise significant alarm in the cybersecurity and data assurance community, because no amount of antivirus or anti-malware software can help a computer user who knowingly and voluntarily gives a potential cyber attacker the information he or she needs to do damage. Ponemon recommends a redoubling of efforts to educate American Web surfers about the common features of online scams and common-sense steps to avoid them.

Source: “Americans Say One Thing But Likely to do Another When it Comes to Online Scams”