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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Survey Shows Florida at the Bottom for Consumer Cybersecurity

A new survey shows that residents of the Sunshine State engage in more risky behavior than their counterparts in the other 49 states.

Some states are more dangerous, from a cybersecurity standpoint, than others. That's the conclusion of a new report by the Ponemon Institute that ranks each state based on the risks to its citizens and points a finger squarely at Florida as the home of riskiest behavior.

The report, "The Cyber Hygiene Index: Measuring the Riskiest States," is based on a survey of 4,290 consumers across all 50 states. Ponemon Institute queried survey participants on a variety of different behaviors and used their responses to create a Cyber Hygiene Index for each state.

Cyber Hygiene Index numbers range from a theoretical high of +37 to a theoretical low of -37. In actuality, state scores ranged from +4.29 to -6.29. The low mark, which was considerably worse than the next-lowest of 5.55 belongs to Florida. The best? New Hampshire.

[Author's Note: In the spirit of full transparency, I note that I'm an intentional resident of Florida. Between alligators, hurricanes, tourists, and now cybersecurity-incompetence, it's astounding that any of us survive the experience.]

According to the report sponsored by Webroot, Floridians are particularly fond of sharing passwords: 72% say that they share at least some credentials with others compared with 64% in the general population who say they engage in at least some password sharing. Combined with previous reports showing that more than half of users reuse passwords, this becomes very risky behavior, indeed.

The fact that password sharing is common highlights one of the basic facts of cybersecurity: that years of education and awareness campaigns have not made an enormous difference in general user behavior.

One particularly telling response came when survey participants were presented with a list of good cyber-hygiene habits. The list included such commonly taught practices as backing up data, checking URLs before clicking them, and frequently updating passwords.

Only backing up data had a positive response rate: 51% say that they back up their data. No other activity was claimed by even one-third of those responding and some, like "have a different password for each account" were chosen by as few as 9% of respondents nationwide.

And the cyber-hygiene issues don't stop at the Florida-Georgia line. In a survey of individual cities and their level of cybersecurity, Las Vegas, Memphis, and Charlotte ranked as least secure (with four Florida metro areas in the top 10). The most secure metropolitan areas? Richmond/Petersburg, Va., Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C., Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News, Va., Seattle/Tacoma, Wash., and St. Louis.

Some might leap to the conclusion that older consumers are less able to protect their computers than their young counterparts, but the survey indicates that 75% of those under 30 have cybersecurity practices that carry more risk than those of older respondents. The message of the survey seems simple: Americans, on the whole, are terrible at cybersecurity. Some Americans are just worse than others.

All of this matters to enterprise security professionals because these consumers are also employees. In 2016, 43% of employed Americans said that they spent at least some time working away from the office. That number is unlikely to have declined in the last 18 months, which makes risky security behavior something that nearly all IT security professionals must deal with.

Enterprise IT security professionals must also deal with the consequences of consumer insecurity. Stolen identities are a leading resource in financial fraud, and poor computer behavior and hygiene are leading sources of stolen identities.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
6/22/2018 | 6:04:49 PM
Confidence issues
I took a close look at this study, and I find its claims about Florida (and other states) sensationalized if not a little downright doubtful. The enormous swing in sample-to-population ratios among each state demonstrate that findings on states like Florida, while perhaps demonstrating some degree of in-a-vacuum accuracy, possess far less statistical confidence and power when performing state-by-state comparisons where similarly sized samples from far smaller states are concerned.

I delved into this subject more for an Informa-family sister site here: securitynow.com/author.asp?section_id=706&doc_id=743966
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