Report: Public Struggles to Grasp Cybersecurity Concepts

A recent report from Pew tested a group of Americans on basic cybersecurity concepts—and barely anyone was able to answer the questions correctly. The research firm says this is a sign of the ways that technical concepts challenge the broader public.

Cybersecurity, like technology in general, is a hugely important part of modern society.

But don’t expect nontechnical employees, or your average member, to have a grasp on digital security to the degree your technical employees do.

We know this because the American public failed the test.

A recent Pew report, What the Public Knows About Cybersecurity, highlights the fact that most people would not be able to explain concepts like two-factor authentication or understand what makes a website encrypted.

The survey was presented in a quiz-style format—and that format did the public no favors. Pew researchers Kenneth Olmstead and Aaron Smith say just 1 percent of respondents answered all 13 of the quiz questions correctly, and just 20 percent answered more than eight questions without any issues. In all, 1,055 U.S. internet users took the survey.

“A majority of online adults can identify a strong password when they see one and recognize the dangers of using public Wi-Fi. However, many struggle with more technical cybersecurity concepts,” the report states.

Other issues that tripped respondents up when doing the survey was an understanding of what a botnet was (nearly three-quarters of those questioned said they weren’t sure), an understanding of how a VPN helps protect users on insecure networks (around 70 percent weren’t sure), and what a multifactor authentication setup looks like (71 percent of respondents answered incorrectly; just 10 percent were right).

In comments to Vocativ, Pew Director of Internet, Science, and Technology Research Lee Rainie said the fact that many questions didn’t receive a response was particularly telling.

“It was very striking to see just how many people were not even giving an answer,” Rainie told the website. “Usually in a low-stakes quiz like this, people will just throw out an answer, but in this particular case they weren’t tuned into these issues enough to even feel like they could venture a guess.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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