Americans overestimate their online safety, despite putting forward little effort

A survey of 10,000 Americans found that 90% believe they are doing enough to protect themselves online, though less than half are even doing the bare minimum.

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Americans are more confident in their online safety than they should be, according to a survey published Wednesday by Wakefield Research and IT security firm Webroot. An astounding 90% of US citizens believe they are doing more than enough to protect themselves online, despite data from the survey showing most people are failing to take basic security precautions.

"Good cyber hygiene doesn't have to be complicated. Simple steps like backing up data, using a modern antivirus, and not recycling passwords are quick and easy ways consumers can improve their security," said Tyler Moffitt, Senior Threat Research Analyst at Webroot. "In today's digital world, no one is immune to cybercrime, and having the awareness and tools necessary to protect yourself is key in keeping personal information secure. Only when users adopt these behaviors will they be adequately defended against today's threats," Moffitt added.

SEE: How to get users on board with essential security measures (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The survey spoke to 200 people in all 50 states, a total of 10,000 respondents of varying ages, sexes and races. Unfortunately, the survey found that most people barely understood what threats are out there, much less how to protect themselves properly.

"Despite lacking the basic knowledge needed to protect themselves from cyber-threats, today's Americans are overestimating their levels of cyber hygiene. Americans are overconfident in the perceived protection they're getting now," they wrote.

"Americans have only a surface-level understanding of the most common types of cyber threats. They can recognize some of the names of the most common cyber-attacks such as malware (79%) or phishing (70%), but for most, that's where their knowledge ends. Very few (less than 1 in 3) actually know what theses common cyber-attacks are or what they do."

Webroot and Wakefield broke the numbers down by state, writing that people in Mississippi, Louisiana, California, Alaska and Connecticut were the most risky with their cybersafety. Respondents in those five states, on average, had failing grades in the study's 10-question test on measures taken to protect oneself online.

"The Cyber Hygiene Risk Index reveals a lack of cyber security preparedness among American consumers. And while there is some gradation in risk, poor levels of cyber hygiene are realized country-wide," they wrote. "The average consumer scored a grade of 60%, with only 10% of the total population scoring a 90% or higher. Mississippi, and New Hampshire headline our riskiest and least risky states, respectively. And while there is some slight variation in risk levels state to state, our highest performing state (New Hampshire) only scored a 65%."

Overall, the report said less than half of the Americans surveyed have adopted cybersecurity practices that are considered "the bare minimum." A majority of people are still reusing passwords for multiple websites, still keeping their social media accounts public and allowing their anti-virus software to fall out of date. Few people are backing up their devices in more than one place.

When it comes to antivirus software, 62% are using free services and only 20% of people surveyed are updating their software when prompted to.

The good news is that there are people making every effort to protect themselves. The report found that about 5% of those who responded to the survey were cybersecurity "superstars" who are backing up data using multiple methods online and offline, investing in a reliable, modern-antivirus solution, and keeping it up to date as well as using a secure password manager.

SEE: Special report: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

These superstars helped balance the survey out, but for the most part, even the states with the most amount of people employing cyber safety best practices still got near failing grades in the survey.

The top of the survey features states like New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Idaho, and Kentucky, where respondents scored the highest grades in terms of cybersecurity preparedness. Yet even these states had averages hovering between 65% and 62%.

"Few Americans are practicing all of the 10 benchmark metrics needed to protect themselves from cybercrime. Among our total sample of 10,000 general population consumers, the average American scored a 60% on our index, and only 10% scored a mark of 90% or higher," they wrote. "Less than half of Americans have yet to adopt cyber hygiene practices that are now considered the bare minimum when it comes to keeping themselves protected. And among those who have, many are not doing so effectively."

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