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Confident or Clueless? Majority of Americans Feel Safe Online

Even as malware rises to epidemic proportions, users say 'no worries,' according to StopBadware.org poll

Call it naiveté, or call it denial. But apparently most Americans just aren’t worried about their security on the Internet: Close to 90 percent feel safe online despite the increasing rise in malware and threats, according to a recent poll of 6,678 Americans commissioned by StopBadware.org.

Some 84 percent of Internet users say they have the tools and information they need to properly protect their security and privacy online, according to the study, which was performed by Zogby International. And 88 percent say they feel safe on the Net.

“What we have here is an Internet security paradox," said Maxim Weinstein, head of the StopBadware.org team at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "Americans see themselves as safe online, even as we see an ongoing trend of organized criminal elements using the Internet to target unsuspecting users."

The younger the user, the more confident, according to the poll. Close to half of the under-30 crowd polled said they felt very safe online, versus 25 percent of the 65-and-older set.

That’s a natural generational gap, however, according to the pollsters. "Young people who have grown up in a digital society treat the Internet as part of their world, not as a separate entity with different rules from the physical world," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center. "To digital natives, asking if they feel safe online is akin to asking if they feel safe in their own community."

StopBadware.org is an alliance of academic institutions, industry, and volunteers aimed at educating users on Internet privacy and security threats from malware. Among its members are AOL, Google, Lenovo, PayPal, Sun Microsystems, Trend Micro, and VeriSign. Along with the Berkman Center, Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute also heads up StopBadware.org.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading