Just as there is inequality in life, there is also inequality online. Demographics play a big part in how individuals are targeted by cybercriminals and some groups of people are much more likely than others to be victims of cybercrime, according to a recent survey of 5,000 people in the United States.
The study, conducted by Malwarebytes in partnership with Digitunity and the Cybercrime Support Network, is detailed in the recently published Demographics of Cybercrime Report. The study revealed 50% of people do not feel private online and 31% of people do not feel safe online, which is worrying considering so many aspects of life now involve the Internet.
When it comes to cybercrime, some populations are much more likely than others to become victims, be more emotionally burdened, and much more likely than others to suffer financially from cyberattacks. The survey found individuals from minority groups, and those with lower levels of education and lower income levels are more likely to be victims of cybercrime. Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) were more likely than white people to have their identities stolen, and BIPOC individuals are the least likely to avoid negative financial impacts from cybercrime.
People from these groups were more likely to suffer stress as a result of cybercrime than wealthier individuals, possibly because the potential repercussions can be so much more severe, even though the amount of money that may be lost will be considerably smaller.
“The unfortunate finding from this data points to one possible answer: The more money you make, the more comfortable you are online, even if you lose more of that money to an attack,” explained the researchers in the report. “Money, it appears, plays an enormous role in feeling safe and private online.”
The survey also found that women were more likely than men to receive text messages from unknown individuals that contained a malicious link, and when social media accounts were hacked, women’s accounts were more likely to be used to send malicious messages to contacts than men’s accounts. Women’s accounts were also more likely to be hacked than men’s accounts. 47% of women claimed their social media accounts had been hacked, compared to 36% of men. There were also age differences, with people over 65 years old more likely to suffer from credit card information theft than others, accounting for 36% of all cases.
The survey also revealed considerable gaps in knowledge about how to stay safe online. Only 21% of respondents said they were familiar or very familiar with anti-virus products, and only 67% of respondents said they use an antivirus product, even though there are free versions available from the likes of Avast, AVG, Avira, and Malwarebytes. Creating strong and unique passwords for all accounts is a key cybersecurity best practice, made much easier by password manager solutions. There are free versions of these solutions available from providers such as Bitwarden and LastPass, yet only 42% of respondents said they use a password manager. 6% of people said they do not use any cybersecurity protections at all.
There were variations across the different age groups in terms of the types and extent of tools used to protect sensitive data and keep people safe online, but familiarity with those tools increased with income and education level. People with higher levels of education and income were more likely to use antivirus solutions, identity protection, and digital vaults than other groups.
The reasons for that were not clear. Individuals with more to lose may invest more in protection, higher levels of education may mean people have more awareness of the threats they face online, or it could be that those groups have more resources available to devote to protecting themselves online, but whatever the reasons, wealthier and better educated individuals are better protected online, whereas disadvantaged individuals who are likely to suffer the most from cybercrime are the least protected.
The survey also revealed women were less familiar with all cybersecurity tools than men, although as the report pointed out, this could just be a case of women simply setting a higher bar for declaring themselves familiar.
What is clear from the report is there is inequality online. “As a community, cybersecurity vendors have to listen to what people are saying. Nearly a third do not feel safe, and half do not feel private. Women feel least private and safe of all,” explained the researchers. Cybersecurity companies have developed the tools needed to keep people safe online but it is a mistake to assume that they are available to all and that everyone can access them to the same degree.
“The cybersecurity community should consider why its products are not reaching so many vulnerable populations. Companies must commit to better outreach and product design, creating education and tools that no longer assume equal familiarity for whole segments of the global population, and ensuring better awareness and access for all.”