It's hard to imagine what the world was like before the advent of the internet. If you ask anyone under the age of 20, the question will confuse them, as the 'World Wide Web' is all they've ever known. Even the over 20s now automatically reach for their nearest mobile device or tablet rather than a pen and paper or landline telephone.
Recent research by Chetan Sharma Consulting found that globally, there are more mobile phone subscriptions - approximately six billion - than electricity accounts, access points to safe drinking water and bank accounts. Technology has transformed our everyday lives, providing a sense of ease and convenience that we just don't want to give up. As a society, we are more connected than ever, with most of our everyday and household items - TV, smartphone, even medical devices - now able to connect to the Internet. As we now spend more time online, have we given thought to the repercussions this could have on our cyber well-being? Or do we value the convenience of the internet over the security of the sensitive information that we share in cyber space?
At the start of 2012 Ofcom, the UK's independent regulator and competition authority for the communication industry published a report that looked into the level of consumer concern towards the Internet. The report revealed that while on average consumers are spending five more hours per week online, generally UK adults' concern about the Internet has dropped steadily since 2005, falling from seven in ten (70%) users to half (50 per cent) by 2011.
Contrary to Ofcom's findings, Cloudmark's Connected Communications research saw that the UK public's trust in email, SMS and social networks is actually in decline. 20% of the 1,000 Britons surveyed believe their mobile device was less secure than it was a year ago, and 52% said they did not have enough trust in the security of their mobile device to use it to pay for goods and services. Bad news for the nascent m-commerce sector. While some consumers are potentially aware of the security pitfalls that await them online, there are many consumers that still need to re-evaluate their laid-back attitudes towards the Internet, and are only forced to do so when disaster strikes.
Too little, too late
For a growing number of consumers, when it comes to security, it's unfortunately a case of too little, too late. The convenience that email, social networks and m-commerce provides often means that consumers don't think twice when using these services. Rather than exercising caution before clicking on links or filling in online forms with personal information, the only way that some consumers learn of the potential security threats that the Internet can bring is when they themselves become victims.
The decline in trust seen from our research can be partly explained by the recent rise in identity fraud, insurance scams and hacking via these communication channels, as cyber criminals take advantage of their popularity and prolific use. According to CIFAS, a not-for-profit organisation, identity fraud has increased by 40 per cent since the start of 2012. With scammers getting more sophisticated with their techniques, often imitating businesses by using official logos, consumers need to recognise the potential repercussions of falling victim to these attacks before it actually happens. If we consider scams such as credit card fraud, consumers are rarely held accountable, with the majority of financial institutions footing the bill. Unless consumers are personally and negatively impacted by scams, the convenience offered by the Internet will seemingly prevail.
Use your head
It's simple really; exercising a bit of common sense when interacting online will deliver significant security rewards. Ask yourself this question - would you give your PIN number to a stranger on the street? The answer is most likely 'no', so the same should apply when navigating the web. If you suspect the online store you're buying clothes from doesn't look 'official' or secure, then chances are it's not. Look out for logos of authentication which will indicate whether you can trust the site. If you receive unwanted messages on your mobile, report it to your operator via the short code 7726, so that your operator can make sure it doesn't happen again. The same applies to social networking sites - if you think your profile has been hacked or if you've received spam messages, change your password and tell the service provider so that they can take appropriate action. In exercising common sense and caution, consumers then enjoy the convenience of the Internet in the knowledge that they have control over who sees their information and what is done with it. The cost of ignoring security is too great to be ignored.