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May 22, 2013

CTIA Survey Finds Consumers Know Their Mobile Devices are Vulnerable to Cyberthreats Yet Don't Do Much to Protect Themselves

The second day of CTIA 2013™ wireless extravaganza in Las Vegas produced some sobering information. A survey on cybersecurity, done for the wireless industry’s trade association by noted research firm Harris Interactive was released. The high level headlines were more than a bit disconcerting:

  •          85 percent of consumers know their mobile devices are very or somewhat vulnerable
  •          74 percent say keeping their devices secure is their responsibility, but many don’t take action
  •          Consumers are more likely to be aware and protect themselves against a tangible threat, such as having a device stolen, than intangible threat  such as malware or hacking.

None of the above is surprising. 

First, we all know from experience that mobile devices can be lost, stolen or compromised by bad guys through contaminated apps and other types of malware. In addition, because so many of us have so much critical personal information on those devices (and increasingly important work-related info as well), obviously we are very concerned about the immediacy of what to do if our device is physically missing. The challenges of a virtual attack can be rationalized as less problematic since at least we still have the device, and in the back of our minds we likely believe that if we can’t solve the problem at hand than there is some IT person we know who can and will. 

Getting into the details of consumer attitudes

The 34-page report based on the survey was conducted in November 2012 with more than 1,500 adults who own a cellphone or smartphone. It is available in its entirety at: http://ctia.it/18Lzlv3 (PDF).

A few of the more interesting findings were:

  •          Consumers whose devices were lost or stolen were more likely to use PINs or passwords than those who didn’t have their devices lost or stolen (69 percent versus 47 percent)
  •          However, those same consumer were no more likely to take any other proactive actions, such as remote locking, tracking and/or erasing apps (45 percent versus 41 percent)

One of the more strange results is contained in the chart below.

Source: Cybersecurity Research, Prepared for CTIA, The Wireless Association by Harris Interactive 2013

You are reading correctly. Only one in five respondents view smartphones as mini-computers. The findings details include amplification of this:

  •          53 percent view cybersecurity the same way on mobile devices as they do on computers
  •          Yet, only 31 percent have installed an anti-virus program on their smartphone, compared to 91 percent on a laptop.
  •          Consumers are nearly as likely to run updates on their smartphones (66 percent) as on their laptops (69 percent).

The commentary on the survey results is telling: “The survey clearly shows that there is a disconnect on cybersecurity between consumers awareness and their actions.” It was pointed out that this is not a lost cause. The survey did find that consumers are beginning to take steps to protect themselves and their information. In fact, 66 percent review their wireless bills for suspicious activity at least once a month, and of those who use their mobile devices for online banking, 56 percent for tablets and 55 percent for smartphones use encryption or security software.

There was also an interesting chart about Internet access for smart devices that is indicative of how people are using smartphones versus tablets.

 Source: Cybersecurity Research, Prepared for CTIA, The Wireless Association by Harris Interactive 2013

A few more factoids are worth considering. When asked what would prompt them to add a password or install anti-virus software to their personal tablets or smartphones, the responses were:

  •          35 percent said having a friend or family member suffering a security break
  •          33 percent said an app that reminds them to update anti-malware software or to change the PIN
  •          32 percent said a tutorial that prompts them
  •          27 percent said a friend’s advice
  •          26 percent said advice from a device or network provider
  •          23 percent said from the media stories that explains the benefits

In short, there is a lot of education that is needed, and an opportunity for the industry to engage customers in the process is a win/win situation, i.e., the vendor looks helpful and proactivity can engender loyalty.  In fact, this last finding should be looked at in relationship to another interesting finding that 67 percent of respondents believe industry is better equipped to write cybersecurity regulations than the federal government. They want your help.

Steve Largent, President and CEO of CTIA, made this very point in discussing the survey results: “Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, from the consumer to the app creator to operating system to the device manufacturer to carriers and everyone in between. Through our Cybersecurity Working Group, our members are working hard and being vigilant to protect their customers, but it’s great to see that end users recognize their vital role in preventing cyberthreats…Yet there’s much to do, which is why CTIA and our members will continue to focus on consumer education so users know the wide variety of apps, tools and features available to help protect their information and their devices.”

The lessons here may be simple but that does not lessen their importance. If you don’t want surprises device ownership comes with protections and responsibilities that are in your control. Many of us may believe bad things will not happen to us and we don’t need to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves until we are either victims or believe we are priority targets. Reality is, we are priority targets already, and there are lots of things we can and should do to secure our devices, including drawing on the expertise of our product and service providers to educate us and alert us to problems and solutions.

The industry can make many of the charts in the report many degrees less scary by this time next year by improving certain aspects of their customer care and customer experience initiatives. Indeed, this type of survey will be a useful metric for how far and how fast we all our moving to mitigate the increased risk the mobile world present. 

Edited by Ashley Caputo

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