Internet users in North America and Europe have a basic understanding of online security but do not have confidence in the security of basic online activities, according to the annual Online Wellbeing Survey from F-Secure.
The survey of internet users aged 20-40 in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany revealed that, while most respondents have security software installed on their PCs, many remain unsure that their email is free of malware and other threats.
Moreover, few consumers realise how frequently their security software's antivirus definitions need updating, and most respondents revealed a misplaced confidence that their definitions were up to date.
Although German consumers showed markedly less confidence in the security of e-commerce and online banking than respondents in other markets, they also revealed a significantly better understanding of how frequently antivirus definitions need to be updated.
The survey found that 19 per cent of respondents understood that antivirus definitions need to be updated many times a day. But the German respondents scored highest on this issue, with 31 per cent answering correctly.
Only 10 per cent of respondents are confident that they can open email attachments without infecting their computers with malware, falling to just seven per cent in the US.
Only nine per cent of respondents are confident that they can open links sent via email without infecting their computers with malware. Confidence is highest in the UK at 15 per cent, and lowest in France at four per cent.
Respondents have a basic understanding of online risks and the ways in which their computers could become infected with malware.
A total of 95 per cent of respondents have security software installed on their computers and 73 per cent recognise that computers running antivirus software with up-to-date definitions can still become infected with malware.
Some 88 per cent of respondents realise that malware can add their computers to a botnet used to send spam without their knowledge.
Only 16 per cent of respondents are confident that files they download from websites are free from malware, and 18 per cent of respondents are confident that they are safe from malware spread by websites.
"It is worrying to see that so many consumers believe their antivirus definitions are up to date while not understanding how frequently they need to be updated," said Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure.
"This really shows why it is essential for consumers to make sure they acquire their security from a reliable source and make sure it includes professional service as well.
"Email security is not a new issue. Email remains one of the most popular ways to spread malware, and users understandably remain concerned that attachments may infect their computers."
While malware is still being spread via email attachments, and F-Secure has seen an increase in the use of other techniques, like 'drive-by-downloads'.
"Security software should empower users to take full advantage of the internet and email without worrying about vulnerabilities or security risks," said Hyppönen. "It should provide true online wellbeing."
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