Americans are dangerously overconfident about their online security practices, study shows

Nearly constant attacks on governments and businesses don't seem to phase them.


Eric Geller


Published Oct 14, 2015   Updated May 27, 2021, 7:34 pm CDT

Despite nearly constant news of cyberattacks on governments and businesses, Americans continue to believe that their home networks are secure, even as they neglect basic safety practices and fail to teach their children about personal security.

That’s the mixed message in a new survey that security company ESET and the National Cyber Security Alliance released Wednesday, designed to coincide with the third week of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

Most Americans feel digitally safe within their home networks. Nearly half (49 percent) felt “very confident” that devices in their home were secure, and 30 percent felt just “confident,” for a total of 79 percent who felt safe overall.

But this sentiment contrasts sharply with more troubling findings about Americans’ security practices.

  • 59 percent of parents don’t require their kids to get permission to download apps or join social networks.

  • 60 percent let their kids share passwords with their friends.

  • 40 percent didn’t change the default password on their routers.

  • 56 percent either did not change their router login credentials in the last year or aren’t sure if they did so.

  • 20 percent of households were the victims of at least one data breach, and 56 percent of those households were the victims of multiple incidents.

“What this study reveals is that Americans are managing their lives and clearly reaping the benefits of the Internet, but it is not risk-free,” Michael Kaiser, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, said in a statement. “With a shift in the paradigm, families can make practicing good cybersecurity a way of life and our interconnected families and communities will ultimately be safer and more secure.”

Americans continue to add more Internet-connected devices to their home networks even as their security practices remain weak. Two-thirds of respondents have between one and five connected devices, while 30 percent have more than six. Nearly a third of those surveyed (30 percent) had added two or three new devices to their home since last year.

Most worrisome, given what Americans said about their security practices, is the fact that more than 20 percent of households reported using remotely accessible devices like security cameras and thermostats.

It’s not that Americans aren’t discussing online security with their children. 75 percent said they had had at least one conversation about it, and they overwhelmingly (83 percent) believe that it is important for kids to learn about online safety and security before graduating high school. Yet only 54 percent of respondents said that their kids learned about online security at school.

Parents’ own education largely comes from word of mouth (67 percent said this was their top source of Internet security information), which could be problematic if their sources were misinformed about key details. Only 12 percent of Americans said they learned about online security from the news media.

Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

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*First Published: Oct 14, 2015, 4:19 pm CDT