Widespread Confusion over Protecting Privacy

Are you taking the appropriate steps to protect your identity and privacy online? A new survey from Anonymizer suggests that not only is there a good chance you're not, but that you don't even clearly understand what those steps might be.

Define "privacy". Obviously, since you're reading this online and we're not sitting together you can't actually tell me what you think privacy is. Suffice it to say that privacy is subjective and that there are probably as many variations on defining privacy as there are people surfing the Web. However, no matter what privacy is for you, you need to protect it while you are online.

While most users seem to be aware that privacy needs protection online, an alarming percentage are confused about how to do that.
The Anonymizer survey reveals some interesting results, such as:

• Identity theft (45 percent), privacy (41 percent) and computer viruses (45 percent) made respondents the most nervous about being online.

• 36 percent of respondents believed their identity was secure online.

• Consumers are increasingly aware that their mobile devices are also vulnerable to malicious cyber activity. Only 28 percent believed their identity was secure on a mobile device.

• 85 percent of respondents were aware that they were being profiled by advertisers as they surfed the Internet, and 85 percent were aware that cybercriminals were stalking them without their knowledge.

The most concerning finding of the Anonymizer survey, though, is that three out of four respondents believe that their privacy is protected by using a firewall, and more than 60 percent believe that anti-virus software will guard their identity.

"Online identity theft is much more common than we think and consumers are inundated with conflicting information about what they need to do to protect themselves as they surf the Web," said Bill Unrue, president of Anonymizer. "Consumers need to realize that the steps they take to protect their computer system are not the same measures they need to safeguard their privacy and identity when they're online. Firewalls and anti-virus software simply aren't enough."

Actually, it isn't that firewalls and antimalware software "aren't enough," they're simply not the right tools for the job. Unrue's assertion is sort of like saying that a hacksaw "isn't enough" to nail two boards together. Both are related to working with wood, but in entirely different, and unrelated ways.

The distinction is that the firewall and antimalware software are designed to protect the PC, not the user. Granted, there is some overlap. Preventing unauthorized access to the computer with a firewall, or guarding against bots and spyware with antimalware protection will, in fact, help protect privacy and identity information as well.

The cause for concern, though, is the false sense of security induced by the belief that these are sufficient in and of themselves. Users who believe the firewall and antimalware software will protect their privacy are less likely to take responsibility or exercise discretion when it comes to other means of guarding it.

The reality is that privacy breaches and identity theft are largely a result of social engineering and phishing scams. Security tools and applications can help, but the best protection when it comes to privacy and guarding against identity theft is user education and a healthy dose of cautious skepticism while on the Internet.

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