Who says cybercrime is a serious threat? Just about everyone, according to a new ESET study

Next story

Nine out of 10 people in North America identified cybercrime as an important challenge to the internal security of their country, according to a new survey conducted by ESET.   

Respondents put the threat of cybercrime on a par with human trafficking and corruption, but more serious than terrorism. Almost as many people (86%) said that they thought that the risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime was increasing.

“These numbers provide convincing evidence that cybercrime is very much top of mind in both the US and Canada,” said Stephen Cobb, the ESET security researcher who led the study and recently presented the findings at Virus Bulletin 2018. “People are expressing levels of concern about cybercrime that are equal to, and in some cases greater than, more traditional security challenges faced by nations.”

(The survey polled 3,500 adults – 1,000 in Canada and 2,500 in the US – using standard CAWI methodology with random sampling based on age, gender and place of residence. It was conducted for ESET in September by MNFORCE using the Research Now SSI panel.)

According to Cobb, this latest study reinforces findings from ESET research last year that found American adults rated criminal hacking as more threatening than numerous technology hazards that included global warming and hazardous waste disposal.

“Taken together, these two studies – executed with proven survey instruments – offer convincing evidence of a broad and persistent public concern about the deleterious effects of cybercrime,” said Cobb, who noted that concerns about cybercrime are both general and specific.

Specific concerns people have when using the internet for things like online banking or shopping online include someone misusing their personal data (68%), and the security of online payments (65%). The biggest specific cybercrime concern was identity theft – defined as somebody stealing your personal data and impersonating you – cited by 83%. Being victimized by bank card or online banking fraud was of concern to 80%, and 78% cited concern over malicious software getting on their devices.

Experience and responses may vary

The survey found that, as with other forms of crime, more people may be concerned about a cybercrime than just those who have experienced it. Across North America, malware was of concern to 78% but experienced by 58%; identity theft was of concern to over 80% but experienced by 27% of them. This disparity does not mean that society can afford to relax efforts to deter identity theft, argues Cobb, “Identity theft can be a very messy crime with social as well as personal consequences; whereas something like a malware encounter – although undoubtedly quite scary – can often be cleaned up quite quickly.”

While the survey showed that Canadian and US adults share many of the same cybercrime concerns, Cobb noted that there were some interesting geographic variations in cybercrime experience. For example, over 30% of US respondents reported experiencing identity theft, whereas the percentage was much lower in Canada (17%).

Awareness may be working

One survey finding of particular interest during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is that about two-thirds of North Americans feel that they are well-informed about the risks of cybercrime, although that number is quite a bit higher in the US (70.5%) than in Canada (61.8%).

While this is encouraging, the study also found that close to one in five respondents were concerned enough about privacy and security issues to curtail their online shopping and banking. This mirrors previous ESET research findings that suggest companies engaged in internet commerce still have some way to go before achieving full adoption. Furthermore, according to Cobb, “It is quite possible that some people will stop using online options if the litany of security and privacy breaches continues unabated.”  

More detailed survey findings, including demographic analysis, will be published in November.