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How Security-Conscious Are Your Users?

While not everyone is an IT security expert, even the average user should have a basic understanding of good security practices. We've all dealt with computer viruses in our personal lives, and know there are certain functions to perform to minimize security issues. As more people bring their own devices (smartphones, tablets) onto the corporate network, these people will bring their personal security practices with them, too.

Reporting on User Security Behavior

Users may never learn of the security comprises that occur at work. They also don't feel as personally involved in corporate security actions -- perhaps because they don't feel the attack personally. This begs the question: If they don't perform the security functions and actions with their mobile devices and home systems, then do these actions cause damage to their organization?

The "Americans and Cybersecurity" report from PewResearchCenter provides some disturbing information about user security habits and a general lack of concern. It turns out there are substantial users who do not work at protecting themselves well from security attacks. This blog summarizes data from the Pew report and how it can relate to the business organization.

Are Your Users Worried About Security?

The majority (69%) of online users do not worry about the security of their passwords. Only 30% are worried about their personal password security. Those who have personally experienced a data breach are no more likely to take additional means to secure their passwords.

The majority of Americans anticipate major cyberattacks in the next five years on our nation's public infrastructure (70%) or banking and financial systems (66%). Yet even so, a majority of Americans (61%) have some confidence that U.S. businesses are prepared to handle security attacks. Note that the survey was conducted before recent high-profile data breaches, including the DNC email hacking and the breached Yahoo email accounts. Today, survey respondents may be less optimistic.


Source: Pew Research Center

Do Your Users Lock their Smartphone Screens?

How many of your users use a smartphone and don't lock their screens? This question alone demonstrates the lack of security concerns by 28% of the users.

Smartphones have become a common business tool, and thus, the latest problem for IT security. Security experts recommend using a screen lock to prevent a lost or stolen smartphone from being used to access the smartphone contents. But 28% of those surveyed don't use a screen lock.

Those using screen locks vary in their approaches -- numeric PIN codes (25%) and thumbprint scanners (23%). The Pew survey found that 28% of smartphone owners ages 18 to 29, 24% of owners ages 30 to 49, and 30% of owners ages 50 to 64 do not have any type of screen lock. And so, screen lock is not sufficient to control smartphone access.

Software Flaws

A second way that smartphones can be compromised comes from software security flaws. These can be flaws that exist in the apps or in the smartphone operating system. The business should encourage and monitor users to regularly and promptly install updates for their apps and operating system.

About half of smartphone users set them to update automatically (32%) or update them manually when a new version is available (16%) -- not nearly good enough. The other half of the users reported they only update when it is convenient for them (38%) or that they never update the apps on their phones (10%).


Are Your Users on Public Wi-Fi?

The networks used -- especially public Wi-Fi -- offer additional methods for security attacks. Public Wi-Fi networks (airports, cafes, libraries, even my wife's hair dresser) are common target areas for hackers. People often don't have to even be in the building to access the network; they can sit in the parking lot to perform their malicious activity. Not all public networks are inherently insecure, but how do you know? Security experts recommend that users not perform sensitive activities on public or otherwise unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks. However, do you always remember to follow this safe behavior while switching apps?


More than half of Internet users (54%) from the survey access public Wi-Fi networks. By age segment, 69% of young adults (ages 18 to 29) use public Wi-Fi, compared with 54% of those aged 30 to 49, and 51% of those aged 50 to 64.

It is common for public Wi-Fi users to access their social media accounts (66%) or to check email (71%). Do they also check their business emails as well? The survey did not ask. Additionally, 20% of these users have used public Wi-Fi for financial transactions. Does that mean they trust public Wi-Fi for work-related tasks as well? The survey does not cover this behavior, but I have to believe some of them do.

Beware Security Behavior

While the Pew survey dealt with personal security and behavior, how you handle your personal security reflects on your business security behavior. Technology can only go so far.

There are great security tools available to learn of bad behavior after the fact. Training and awareness will also go a long way to reducing security vulnerabilities. For more on training, see my related blog, "IT Security: Training and Beyond."