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Are we safeguarding our online lives? An online survey suggests our bad habits may be leaving us vulnerable

A recent online survey has shown that while our online lives grow in leaps and bounds, Africans are largely oblivious to the dangers lurking on the web. Or even where there is an awareness of the dangers, following the guidelines for secure password practice is seldom taken seriously.
nudge, a company specialising in online research, conducted a dipstick survey amongst 506 Africans(1) from South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, to explore just how security conscious we are and what we risk.

Do we believe we are vulnerable?

Are we safeguarding our online lives? An online survey suggests our bad habits may be leaving us vulnerable
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Africa has never been more connected, more tech-savvy, with our smartphones, tablets and laptops becoming indispensable aspects of our lives. We know the dangers – we buy anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware and firewalls – so we are safe, right? But our security is only as strong as our passwords – these are essentially the gateway into our online world. Splashdata, a security applications provider, recently released the list of the most common passwords used worldwide in 2015. And no, we are not making it too hard for those wanting to hack into our lives through our devices. The top three passwords for 2015 were “123456”, “password” and “12345678”. Hard to believe?

So how does Africa compare? We certainly have confidence that we are secure – over half (56%) would compare our password strength to the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London and most others think that their closest friend might guess, but nobody else. Only 3% believe that our passwords are very vulnerable. South Africans are a little more cautious than others (48% feel totally secure) while Kenyans appear to be very oblivious of the dangers lurking on the web – 69% were confident that they were completely secure. Another interesting fact was that it is not the youth that are savvy and aware of the dangers. Those aged 36 and over are far more likely to be aware that they are not totally secure, whilst the youth are pretty confident that their online world is impenetrable.

Bad habits

One of the worst habits that over a third of those sampled admitted to was using the same password everywhere. For 31%, their favourite password was literally used for every, or nearly every, log-in or password. Only 26% resist the urge to use this password everywhere, using it for only one or two accounts.

Another common bad habit is never updating passwords – 38% admitted to this. Women were particularly guilty of this, with 43% never updating their passwords. The advice on how often to change passwords varies with between one and six months is typical, but it is not likely that many of us would comply that regularly. Nevertheless, retaining the same password for years does increase our vulnerability.

It was somewhat reassuring to see that few of those surveyed share their passwords liberally or email their password/s, but many use the ‘remember me’ option available on some sites. This is another no-no in the opinion of the internet security experts. Just think how much you would like to hand over your social media accounts, your work log-in, your online shopping accounts and so much more, to the person who snatches your phone or laptop?

Sharing is caring?

Perhaps our desire to be positively perceived by others is another factor which trips us up. Africans pride themselves in their generosity and trusting natures, so why should passwords be any different? Indeed, 48% of our sample have shared their passwords or pin codes with someone else. Females are particularly guilty here, most likely to share this information with their partner (36%) or other family members (25%). It was interesting to note that Ghanaians are much more likely to share their passwords with a friend than with family members. By contrast, Kenyans are not that trusting of their partners but do trust their family members.

So how vulnerable are we?

Taking how serious they are about security combined with how much of their lives are exposed online, it seems most are not aware of just how much of a risk they are taking. Over 40% are quite oblivious to the dangers indicating that they are not very vulnerable at all, although South Africans are not quite as confident. Only 12% are concerned that their online lives are very to extremely vulnerable (males are slightly more likely to be worried at 16%). Perhaps this fear was justified. A total of 15% are aware that one or more of their online accounts has been hacked in the past, and a further 61% don’t think they have been hacked but are not sure. Kenyans appear to face greater risk, with 26% aware that they have been hacked, compared to only 10% of South Africans. Interestingly, males are more likely to have been hacked (19% vs 11% females who have been hacked), although it is not clear whether this is because they perhaps have a greater online presence or because they are less security conscious.

Needless to say, as our online presence becomes more and more entrenched, we all need to be stepping up our game in terms of taking responsibility for our security. Increased risk equates to greater incentive for those who would benefit from accessing our information. We all need to keep up to date with the latest advice and take the time to implement these measures into our lives.

(1)Ghana=66, Kenya=126, South Africa=283 and Tanzania=32

Please contact az.oc.egdun@ekaj or az.oc.egdun@regor.

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25 Feb 2016 12:22