The Myth of the Computer Security Savvy Generation

We continuously hear and read that we, in North America, are computer literate and how wonderfully technically competent this new generation of computer/connected device users is. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a myth.

People love myths. It seems that we will buy into any myth provided it agrees with, or reinforces, our already held misconceptions. Myths of course, get their status precisely because they do reinforce our beliefs, properly held or not.

Well, let me be the one to shatter this myth for you. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth.

We know that anecdotal evidence, while interesting, does not always tell the tale. On the other hand, gather enough anecdotal evidence and one may have enough data to propose a theory, that can withstand probing and prodding.

Since I’m involved in Internet and system security, and write on these issues for both my personal Blogs, and for the website Makeuseof.com, I’m the “go to” guy for my friends, their friends, my neighborhood; the list goes on.

These opportunities to deal with average/typical computer users, as opposed to corporate users, have provided many opportunities to develop anecdotal evidence on the abysmal state of a typical computer users understanding of even minor technical issues but most particularly, computer security.

As a tech/geek, I am in touch with hundreds of other techs/geeks from all over the world on a fairly consistent basis. This contact provides all of us with the opportunity to exchange information on the world of technology. Of course, like most people, we don’t always agree on the relevancy, or the truth, of the information being discussed.

One undisputed reality however, that we all agree on, is the lack of knowledge exhibited by typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of knowledge concerning the need to secure their machines against the ever increasing risks to their privacy and their financial security on the Internet. Essentially, we’re in agreement that the old expression, slightly modified, covers it “they simple don’t know what they don’t know.”

So anecdotally I can tell you, there’s a major lack of knowledge and skill relating to computers/connected devices, security and technology in general in North America.

The role of a poor quality education, and functional illiteracy, in all of this cannot be underestimated. There is no doubt that functional illiteracy severely limits interaction with information and communication technologies (e.g. using a personal computer working with a word processor, a web browser, a spreadsheet application, or using a mobile phone efficiently).

In the United States it’s estimated that 40-44 million (28-30% of adults) are functionally illiterate, in other words, they cannot read for content. In fact, it’s not uncommon that first year college students are required to take a course in remedial reading.

There was no surprise then in reading that the American Council of Life Insurers reports that 75% of the Fortune 500 companies provide some level of remedial literacy training for their workers. How’s that for literacy in a technology driven world?

The results of this function illiteracy can be seen in the overriding statement from a recent home computer security survey developed by National Cyber Security Alliance, and security firm McAfee: computer users are in need of a “reality check” when it comes to home computer security.

Based on the survey, McAfee and NCSA stated; while 98 percent of computer users agree that having up-to-date security software is important for system security, a significant number of the survey respondents have computers with security software that is incomplete, or dangerously out of date.

The results of this survey are consistent with my own anecdotal evidence, and I am confident that this survey does not overstate the case.

Highlights of the survey:

Ninety-two percent of those surveyed believed their anti-virus software was up to date, but in fact, only 51 percent had updated their anti-virus software within the past week.

Seventy-three percent of those surveyed believed they had a firewall installed and enabled, yet only 64 percent actually did.

Approximately 70 % of PC users believed they had anti-spyware software, but only 55 percent actually had it installed.

25% of survey participants believed they had anti-phishing software, but only 12 percent actually had the software.

Where do you fit in all this?

Computer security, especially while surfing the Internet has to be a priority; it cannot take a back seat to anything. It needs to be first and foremost in computer users’ minds as they interact with the Internet.

Most of us now store a large volume of confidential personal information on our home computers, including information concerning our personal finances, taxes, health, and perhaps personal documentation of other types.

So, it may well be that you need to take the time to survey your computer to insure that all relevant security applications have been installed, are up to date, and are operating correctly.

If you need to update or add additional security applications to your computer, then checkout The Top 10 Security Applications on this Blog for reviews and free security application downloads.

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8 Comments

Filed under Freeware, Internet Safety, Living Life, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

8 responses to “The Myth of the Computer Security Savvy Generation

  1. People install all kinds of security software. Antivirus, spyware removers even encryption software like truecrypt and just leave it there. “I have TrueCrypt on my computer, therefore I am safe :D” Most people don’t even use these applications, they don’t scan, they don’t update.. and they don’t encrypt.

    There should be proper IT education in school, were kids learn internet security.

  2. Not only do people “not know that don’t know”, they don’t want to hear about their ignorance.. because learning is hard.. the words used are alien.. and it requires time and effort.
    I am a tech, and I hear, “just make it work”, not “show me how to make it work”.
    The world of tech/computers is filled with acronyms, and one of the oldest is PEBCAK–
    Problem Exixts Between Chair And Keyboard.

    People think PCs are like their automatic garage door openers, or microwave ovens.
    In reality, they’re an artificial intelligence.
    Get it?

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  4. Reason is simple – security tasks doesn’t really register for people as more personal stuff.

    When person launches his home PC he is thinking “I must check my email” but isn’t thinking “I must check my antivirus”.

    Checking email is personally-important.
    Checking antivirus is personally-unimportant.

    Especially in last years when viruses are mostly not directly harmful because zombifying PC and using it for spam and such is more profitable. They don’t register as personal danger.

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