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F-Secure survey: Are Spartans a threat to your online security?

February 2009 by F-Secure

F-Secure’s annual Online Wellbeing survey, conducted in December 2008, shows that over 90% of people have security software installed on their computers. However, the knowledge of online threats is not as high: 71% may have a false sense of security and it is a Trojan not a ‘Spartan’ which presents a threat to your online security. For the first time the survey was also conducted in India and Hong Kong as well as Italy.

F-Secure announced results from its annual Online Wellbeing Survey. This third-party survey of Internet users aged 20-40 in the United States, Canada, UK, France, Germany – and for the first time – Italy, India and Hong Kong, tested the respondents’ knowledge of online security issues (their ‘security IQ’).

The majority of respondents across the countries – 92% – said they have security software installed on their computers. At the same time only 21% of all the respondents knew that antivirus definitions need to be updated many times a day. This indicates that a large population of users may have a false sense of security if their security software is expired or does not update automatically often enough. However, 67% were also aware that they need more than antivirus to keep them safe and almost 90% knew that they can get infected by visiting a malicious website, even if they don’t download anything.

Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor and blogger form F-Secure Security Labs in Helsinki says: “The fact that millions of PC’s keep getting infected shows that people do not always understand the way their security software works. Their software they have chosen may be manual and curative, rather than automatic and preventative. This is often the difference between free and trial software and a paid security service, which is automatically updated.”

The results show that people rely on their security software for online safety and secure websites to ensure the safety of their online shopping and banking. Just over 20% realize that appropriate online behavior on their own part also plays a big role. Respondents in Hong Kong and Germany were most aware of this. Respondents in the UK were least likely to pay attention to their own online habits to keep them safe.

Respondents in India and Hong Kong relied on the security software they had purchased or the security service from their Internet Service Provider (70% India, 50% Hong Kong). Those surveyed in the US had the least confidence in purchased software but rather relied on secure websites. In France, respondents relied more on the security of their online shopping and banking websites than their software.

When asked which concept in a list (worms, phishers, Trojans, Spartans, bots) did not refer to an Internet security threat, 40% answered that they didn’t know. Germany had the highest percentage of respondents (54%) who answered correctly that Spartans are not a threat. The second savviest respondents were from Canada (38%). Only 4% of respondents in Hong Kong knew that Spartans are not threatening.

The Internet Explorer vulnerability in December 2008 and the Downadup/Conficker worm which spread widely in corporate networks in January 2009 highlighted once again the need for users to update their applications with the latest patches and updates. F-Secure’s Online Wellbeing survey showed that only 17% of respondents were absolutely sure that they had the latest patches and updates. 40% of respondents were less sure but agreed with the statement. Canadians were the most sure (22%) that their applications were patched, with Germans coming in second (21%).

The survey was carried out by independent third party Zoomerang in December 2008 across 2019 Internet users aged 20-40 in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, UK, Italy, India and Hong Kong. There were approximately 200 persons surveyed per country. F-Secure asked respondents a series of basic online security questions and, using a Likert scale, asked them to rate the extent to which they were confident in the security of given online activities.

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