What the Public Knows About Cybersecurity

In an increasingly digital world, an individual’s personal data can be as valuable – and as vulnerable – to potential wrongdoers as any other possession. Despite the risk-reducing impact of good cybersecurity habits and the prevalence of cyberattacks on institutions and individuals alike, a Pew Research Center survey finds that many Americans are unclear about some key cybersecurity topics, terms and concepts. A majority of online adults can identify a strong password when they see one and recognize the dangers of using public Wi-Fi. However, many struggle with more technical cybersecurity concepts, such as how to identify true two-factor authentication or determine if a webpage they are using is encrypted.

This survey consisted of 13 questions designed to test Americans’ knowledge of a number of cybersecurity issues and terms. Cybersecurity is a complicated and diverse subject, but these questions cover many of the general concepts and basic building blocks that cybersecurity experts stress are important for users to protect themselves online. However, the typical (median) respondent answered only five of these 13 knowledge questions correctly (with a mean of 5.5 correct answers). One-in-five (20%) answered more than eight questions accurately, and just 1% received a “perfect score” by correctly answering all 13 questions.

These are the key findings from an online survey of 1,055 adult internet users living in the United States conducted June 17-27, 2016.

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