Regular online attacks hit 40% of US citizens, Microsoft study shows

A Microsoft study shows 40% of US citizens experience weekly attempts to access their personal information online

Four in 10 US citizens experience weekly and even daily attempts to access their personal information and other data while using PCs online, a Microsoft survey has revealed.

That figure compares to 18% of more than 1,000 US adults polled in August 2014 reporting daily or weekly fraud attempts via mobile phones and 22% via tablet computers.

A Get Safe Online campaign recently revealed just over half of UK citizens polled have fallen victim to online crime.

Half of those who admitted they had been victims of online crime – such as fraud, identify theft, hacking and online abuse – said they felt very or extremely violated.

On a positive note, the Microsoft survey shows a big jump in the number of people in the US taking steps to improve information security on their mobile devices.

Almost three-quarters of respondents said they take steps to protect themselves on mobile devices, up by 25% compared with a 2012 survey.

On average, US internet users say they take three unique steps to help safeguard their mobile devices, compared to an average of five steps to help protect PCs and eight steps to protect personal information generally.

Mobile safety precautions include downloading apps from trusted companies or publishers (49%), up by 21% from 2012; regularly updating mobile apps (41%), up by 17% from 2012; always using a four-digit PIN or passcode to lock the mobile device (39%), up by 19% from 2012; and opting for a more current mobile operating system (37%), up by 16% from 2012.

“Regardless of the device, Microsoft routinely advises newer is better as more up-to-date technology often includes the latest security and safety features,” chief online safety officer at Microsoft Jacqueline Beauchere wrote in a blog post.

According to the survey, consumers are now more worried about general scams, with nearly two-thirds of respondents voicing concerns about schemes such as phishing, spear-phishing, fake websites and healthcare scams, compared with just more than half saying the same in 2012.

Microsoft's tips to protect against identity theft

  • Be selfish and defensive with personal information by not sharing sensitive details in emails or instant and text messages
  • Create, use and keep secret strong passwords, which are comprised of numbers and symbols, and upper and lower-case letters
  • Protect accounts and credit by staying on top of monthly balances and managing lines of credit
  • Bolster device security by applying regular updates and using legitimate anti-malware programs

Fears about shopping scams grew the most, up by 6% from 2012 to 60%. Shopping scams include attempting to make a purchase at an unsecured website, overpayment, email shopping and lottery scams.

The survey also showed concerns about several specific scam and fraud methods had increased, with fake websites and major event scams up by 13% and 12%, respectively.

The average number of traditional scams consumers experienced fell by more than half, as the incidence of a number of more traditional scams also dropped.

Lottery and other advance-fee fraud scams both decreased by 9% each. However, respondents indicated they are experiencing new scams associated with social networking sites.

“Criminals are eager to gain access to people’s private account and other sensitive personal data because such information is extremely valuable. 

"This is not only to attempt to perpetrate a one-time fraud, but also to seek to coalesce a portfolio of data about an individual so as to pretend to be him or her – in other words, to commit identity theft,” said Beauchere.

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