Faced with threat of hack­ing, most peo­ple in US do noth­ing

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Business - BY CHRISTO­PHER MELE New York Times

Last year was a ban­ner year for the ex­po­sure of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, and so far this year there has been a steady drum­beat of data breaches, so many that ex­perts worry that peo­ple are just throw­ing up their hands in de­feat.

Time­hop, an app that col­lects old pho­tos and posts from so­cial me­dia, dis­closed a breach in July that af­fected 21 mil­lion of its users. Names, dates of birth, phone num­bers and email ad­dresses were among the iden­ti­fi­able de­tails that were leaked.

Un­der Ar­mour re­vealed a data breach in March of 150 mil­lion ac­counts on its food and nu­tri­tion app MyFit­nessPal; the ge­neal­ogy site MyHer­itage an­nounced one in June af­fect­ing 92 mil­lion users, and 340 mil­lion in­di­vid­ual records held by the mar­ket­ing firm Ex­ac­tis were ex­posed that month on a pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble server.

In one of the most jaw­drop­ping cases, Ya­hoo last year up­dated fig­ures to re­veal that an at­tack in 2013 had af­fected all 3 bil­lion of its user ac­counts, up from a pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate of 1 bil­lion.

Ex­perts cau­tion that the stream of news about such breaches can set a new nor­mal and in­still a sense of fa­tal­ism – and com­pla­cency – in con­sumers.

An­thony Vance, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Cy­ber­se­cu­rity at the Fox School of Business at Tem­ple Univer­sity, said last year’s breach of in­for­ma­tion held by the credit re­port­ing com­pany Equifax, which af­fected 145 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, was “a game-changer.”

The in­for­ma­tion gleaned could be used to fraud­u­lently open new credit ac­counts, he said, adding, “That should give even the most jaded Amer­i­can con­sumer pause and prompt them to do some­thing.”


Ev­i­dence sug­gests that high-pro­file breaches do not typ­i­cally change con­sumers’ be­hav­ior.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter study found most Amer­i­cans keep track of their pass­words by mem­o­riz­ing or writ­ing them down, with only 12 per­cent us­ing a pass­word man­ager, which can gen­er­ate hardto-crack pass­words.

And an ex­per­i­ment con­ducted by Vance and other re­searchers found a dis­con­nect be­tween con­sumers’ pro­fessed con­cerns about on­line se­cu­rity and their ac­tions. In the ex­per­i­ment, peo­ple us­ing their per­sonal com­put­ers to com­plete an as­signed task tended to ig­nore warn­ings that some sites they were about to visit were not se­cure.

He said con­sumers may be told the same ad­vice repeatedly but are slow to re­spond un­less they have al­ready had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence. Only then does this “once bit­ten, twice shy” les­son sink in.

“You’re not go­ing to back up data, no mat­ter what I tell you, un­til you lose the baby pic­tures of your first child,” Vance said. “Some­times it takes an in­ci­dent to in­ter­nal­ize be­hav­ior. It’s so easy to get in­ured.”

Ex­perts call this be­hav­ior “breach fa­tigue.”


Steven An­drés, who teaches at the Fowler Col­lege of Business and home­land se­cu­rity pro­gram at San Diego State Univer­sity, said it would be rea­son­able to think con­sumers would be more dili­gent af­ter heav­ily pub­li­cized breaches, but some re­search in­di­cates just the op­po­site.

“We may ad­just to this be­ing the ‘new nor­mal,’ ” he said, adding that “dig­i­tal na­tives and younger gen­er­a­tions may per­ceive their per­sonal data – in a dis­torted sense – to never have been pri­vate, so what’s the big deal with it leak­ing out on the web any­way?”

A “re­cency bias” leads con­sumers to be­lieve that as a breach re­cedes in the head­lines, it be­comes less threat­en­ing, Vance said. How­ever, the data in the Equifax breach does not have a half-life and could be used for ne­far­i­ous pur­poses at any point. Blame hu­man na­ture. An­tic­i­pated dan­ger can eas­ily be “de­flected, de­ferred or de­clined” be­cause it makes us feel anx­ious and stressed, said James Nor­rie, dean of the Gra­ham School of Business at York Col­lege of Penn­syl­va­nia and a cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­pert.

Peo­ple also tend to have un­re­al­is­ti­cally op­ti­mistic out­looks about fu­ture events and be­lieve that bad things will hap­pen to some­one else, ex­perts said.

“There’s not go­ing to be a magic bul­let,” said Vinny Troia, chief ex­ec­u­tive and prin­ci­pal se­cu­rity con­sul­tant of Night Lion Se­cu­rity and an ex­pert in net­work se­cu­rity. “It’s the same things we’ve been say­ing over and over again.”


Con­sumers will be best served if they heed this fa­mil­iar ad­vice: Do not re­use pass­words, rely on two-fac­tor ver­i­fi­ca­tion, in­stall soft­ware only from trusted sources, ques­tion any alert that pops up on your screen and get a pass­word man­ager.

“We are not liv­ing in a bub­ble per se, but in­stead we are un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the se­cu­rity of our data,” said Gil­bert E. Franco, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Bea­con Col­lege in Lees­burg, Florida. “Much like a teenager un­der­es­ti­mates the risks they take, we as a so­ci­ety are still in our ado­les­cent years when it comes to the in­ter­net.”


Par­tic­i­pants prac­tice re­spond­ing to a mock data breach in Fe­bru­ary at IBM’s X-Force Com­mand Cen­ter in Cam­bridge, Mass. Ex­perts worry that con­sumers, in­un­dated with news of data breaches, are be­com­ing com­pla­cent.

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