Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing (TwC) Group has released new research that shows a sizable gap between what people are doing about online safety and security and what they should be doing.
The study was undertaken in part to help Microsoft’s TwC Group gauge the success of its 10-year effort to improve computing security, privacy, and online safety within the Microsoft product lines. As part of the research effort, the group developed a new scoring system (the Microsoft Computing Safety Index) that ranks how well people are protecting themselves online. The MCSI index is designed to gauge online safety efforts and help individuals and families assess their own safety needs.
The index measures basic and advanced computer security behaviors such as:
- Using a newer operating system
- Using antivirus software
- Using automatic update features
- Using a firewall
- Connecting securely to wireless networks
- Controlling information-sharing
- Creating strong passwords
The first go-round of the study surveyed 2,045 people in five countries — Brazil, France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. — and came up with an average online safety score of 34 out of 100. For the U.S., the average was a bit higher at 37. U.S. educators outscored the five-country average of 32 by seven points; U.S. parents beat the average of 33 by three points. But regardless of how the results are parsed, the scores suggest most people could do a lot more to protect themselves.
For a complete list of the factors included in the index, to take the survey and to read the executive overviews visit the Microsoft Safety and Security site.
Ed. Note: By far the most interesting aspect of the study’s design is that it first asks respondents to state what security measures they have on their computers, then it prompts them to look and see what is actually running on their systems. Obviously, Microsoft wants to know if people are aware of the security features in Windows and if they are using them.
The results: Consumers are better protected than they think they are. For example, 55% stated they use automatic computer updates to keep their their operating systems and security features up to date. But when checking the computers the actual percentage was 80%, meaning 25% have their settings on automatic update but don’t know it.
The research also revealed that 52% of participants reported using firewalls. In reality, firewall usage rates among the participants were 76%.
About 60% of respondents said they use virus protection, but about 90% actually had some form of antivirus programs running on their computers.
Microsoft and other technology companies are well aware that consumers are not completely clued in to the use of their own systems. They are also aware that technology users are growing more concerned about security breaches, fraud, and personal data collection. Those consumer concerns can easily translate into a loss of public confidence in digital commerce and the computing ecosystem. Some studies show they already have.
In Microsoft’s own words: “Public trust depends upon people knowing their privacy and safety is protected to the greatest extent possible. If companies fail to meet security expectations, then consumers will be less inclined to use online technologies and [the technology] industry will suffer.”
In other words, in a literacy 2.0 world, online safety isn’t just good for people, it’s good for business.