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AARP Research

Convenience Versus Security: Challenges of A Wireless World

This AARP survey was conducted among the general population of Americans age 18 and older to gauge their online access, their use of public WiFi and knowledge of the security risks involved, and online and daily activities that put them at risk for personal or financial fraud or identity theft.  A total of 800 interviews (559 by landline and 241 by Cell phone) were completed.  The total completed sample yields a maximum statistical error of ± 3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.  Interviews took place between April 2 and April 11, 2015.  All data have been weighted by age and gender according to the 2013 Census estimates from the American Community Survey.

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Many American Internet Users Flunk a Cybersecurity Quiz Many American internet users lack important cybersecurity knowledge. When asked seven questions related to cybersecurity, just under half (45%) ‘failed’ the quiz, answering four or fewer questions correctly.

Many Online Behaviors Put Americans at Risk
While some American internet users are aware of the risks of using the Internet and free WiFi, many are engaging in behaviors that could put them at risk of being scammed:

  • Not monitoring online bank or credit card accounts. Data from this survey shows that well over half (61%) of American adult internet users do not have online access to all of their bank accounts; and nearly three-quarters (71%) say they do not have online access to all of their credit card accounts.
  • Infrequent password changes. Among American internet users who set up online access to their banking accounts, half (50%) say they haven’t changed their passwords in the past 3 months, and over one in ten (12%) say they haven’t changed passwords in more than 2 years (2%) or ever (10%).
  • Use Free Public WiFi to do personal banking and make consumer purchases. Over a quarter of internet users who report using free public WiFi, say they used free public WiFi to do their banking (27%) or purchase a product with a credit card (27%) in the three months prior to taking this survey.
  • No passcodes on smart phones. Among those who access the internet with a smart phone, one in four (26%) say they do not have a passcode on that phone, and almost one-third (31%) of those ages 50 and older say they do not have a passcode on their phone.

Majority of Americans Age 18+ are Online
The survey results show that most (75%) American adults age 18 and older access the Internet at least once a month, and in fact, most say they do so every day (84%).

“LowTech” Behaviors that Put American Internet Users at Risk
Americans are also engaging in ‘low tech’ behaviors that put them at increased risk of being scammed:

  • Unlocked Mailbox. Credit card statements, utility bills, health care information can be linked to financial or other important personal accounts. Interestingly, nearly six in ten (58%) respondents say they receive mail in an unlocked mailbox.
  • Little to No Shredding. Shredding paper documents or credit cards can help prevent cyber criminals from finding personal identification information. Yet, one in six (17%) Americans say they only shred personal documents once a year or less, and another one in six (17%) say they never shred.

Few Americans Rate Public WIFI as Unsafe
Interestingly, while one in four (24%) Americans who access the Internet say free public WiFi is not at all safe, well over a third (37%) indicate using it at least once a month, with one-quarter (25%)  using it at least once a week.

  • No firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Among Amerian internet users who access the internet through a laptop or desktop computer, almost one quarter say they have not or are not sure if they installed anti-spyware (no: 18%; not sure: 5%) or enabled a firewall (no: 16%; not sure: 8%) and about one in six say they have not (12%) or are not sure (3%) if they installed anti-virus software.
  • Leaving Valuables in the Car. Six in ten (61%) respondents say they have left at least one of the following six items in their car:  a purse/wallet, checkbook, personal mail, cell phone, GPS unit, or laptop computer in their cars during the past three months.

Interviews were conducted April 2 through April 11, 2015.  ANR completed a total of 800 interviews (559 by landline and 241 by cell phone). Respondents were screened for being aged 18 or older and accessing the internet at least a couple of times per month. Both landline (RDD) and cell phone sample were used for this research. A total of 11,700 records were dialed. For more information contact Jennifer Sauer at MJSauer@aarp.org.

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Rebecca Gillian

AARP Research's Senior Vice President Becky Gillan blogs about recent AARP research and her experiences as a member of the 50+. Read

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