A few years ago, many people didn't talk about cybersecurity or even pay much attention to it. These days, it's a growing source of stress among consumers, who rely on several devices and businesses to protect their data and regularly read reports about major companies getting breached.
More than 80% of Americans, and 72% of Canadians, admit they've experienced stress due to news of data breaches, according to a new report on consumer levels of "cyber stress" conducted by Opinion Matters and sponsored by Kaspersky Labs. Researchers polled 2,515 Internet users over the age of 16 to gauge the effects of digital security on their stress levels.
It's the first time this study has been conducted; however, it follows a gradual and definitive shift in consumer awareness driven by more-frequent reports of cybercrime. The Identity Theft Resource Center says 1,579 data breaches were reported in 2017, marking a 45% increase from the previous year and the highest number since it started tracking this information.
People are thinking more critically about their data and what they can do to protect it. Three-quarters say protecting their devices from cybercrime has caused them stress.
"When cyberattacks and breaches started becoming a regular occurrence in the news, it seemed to be a wake-up call for many consumers to realize that a cybersecurity issue could personally impact them," says Brian Anderson, vice president at Kaspersky Lab North America.
The turning point, he notes, was the spike in attacks hitting companies people knew and frequented. When large breaches hit Target, Home Depot, and eBay in 2013 and 2014, it made the consequences of poor data security more tangible for consumers affected.
However, the most common sources of stress are not massive one-time breaches, says Anderson. It's the idea that people have to protect their information all the time because these events could happen at any moment. They understand the real-life effects of a data breach, such as identity theft and monetary loss, and have to protect more devices and accounts.
Respondents ages 25 to 34 were most likely to have had a security issue — virus, ransomware, malicious links, or emails — in the last five years. Nearly 60% of this age group reported one of these problems, compared with 46% of respondents overall. Nearly half of those ages 16 to 24 feel stress over password management, compared with one-quarter of participants older than 55.
"These [younger] age groups faced a comparable amount of cybersecurity issues, but because young people are often managing more passwords and more devices than older generations, cybersecurity is causing them a greater amount of stress," Anderson explains.
Consumers who have experienced cyberattacks are more likely to worry about them. Of those who reported an issue, one-third agreed they find it stressful to protect all of their devices.
There is a silver lining to the stress. As people become more aware of the need for security, they're adopting tools like password management software to keep track of their data. Anderson says consumers are becoming more aware of where they share their data, as well as the applications and services that may have more access than is necessary.
Respondents are least willing to share information with social networks (33%), mobile payment services (29%), banking apps (25%), and messaging apps (17%), but they're also hesitant to share with friends and family. Nearly half (49%) would trust a partner with a username and password; the same amount would share answers for security questions.
That said, greater stress doesn't necessarily mean people are taking more precautions. Fourteen percent of Americans and 6% of Canadians admit they have experienced four or more cybersecurity issues in the last five years. While they could blame bad luck, researchers say this level of frequency may also indicate failure to adopt security measures.