Consumer Reports study: Online privacy still a big problem

June 11, 2014 

Are you giving away the keys to your online privacy? If so, you're not alone.


Despite a rash of high-profile data breaches and cyber threats, an alarming 62 percent of U.S. online consumers have done nothing to protect their privacy on the Internet, according to a recent national Consumer Reports survey.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of victims is on the rise: One in seven online consumers were notified that their personal data had been breached in 2013 -- a 56 percent increase from 2012. And a projected 11.2 million people fell for e-mail phishing scams, up 22 percent from the previous year.

These days, the threat of cyber attacks and malicious software is nearly omnipresent, whether Americans are on their home computer, storing files in the cloud, or using the wi-fi network at the local coffee shop or the doctor's office.

The new report, published online May 29 and in the July issue of Consumer Reports, exposes some of the ingenious methods cybercriminals have been using to prey on the unsuspecting, as well as ways consumers can recognize their points of vulnerability and strengthen their defenses.

"The most effective defense against an international onslaught of shadowy hackers is being a well-informed and vigilant individual," said Glenn Derene, electronics editor for Consumer Reports. "It should be clear by now that consumers can't rely solely on institutions to safeguard their valuable personal information online. Our report identifies some tools that can help people shut the door on cybercriminals."

For online consumers, the first step in protecting themselves is to know where they're exposed. The CR report lists nine areas of vulnerability -- from hospitals to cloud services.

Some widely used cloud services such as Dropbox and Evernote have a spotty security record. Dropbox has had several breaches over the past few years and in 2013, a hack of Evernote exposed the user names and e-mail addresses of about 50 million users.

Information stored in the cloud is only as secure and accessible as the cloud provider makes it.

Consumers who store private information on cloud-based service should encrypt it with a free encryption program such as TrueCrypt before they upload it. If a breach occurs, hackers won't be able easily read that data.

The CR report also includes profiles of seven recent security disasters, a field guide to stronger passwords and reviews of online security software.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted the survey on Internet security in January. Participants were -- 3,110 adults with a home Internet connection who were part of an online panel convened by GfK, a research company.

From those respondents, Consumer Reports made national projections. The margin of error for the full sample was plus or minus 1.8.

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