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Bentley College Survey Finds U.S. Adults Are Concerned About Cyber Security Issues, But Still Need Help Understanding Internet Threats

October 26, 2004

WALTHAM, Mass.- The majority of Americans are concerned about hackers using their home computers to launch attacks on others, but their knowledge of specific threats remains minimal. According to the Bentley Survey on Consumers and Internet Security, consumers need more education about online security threats and best practices.

While 85 percent of respondents believe adopting security measures for their home PC can help prevent it from being infected by a virus, nearly half (44 percent) responded "no" or "not sure" when asked if their ISP had provided information about how security tools can protect their home computer. Sixty-six percent of those employed full or part-time said their employers have not provided any Internet security training.

The Bentley study surveyed 2,952 U.S. adults who access the Internet from home. Funded by Symantec Corp., the global leader in information security, the survey provides the first baseline about consumer attitudes toward Internet security, their experiences with security for their home PC, whether their ISP or employer conducted any security education or awareness training, and preferences for securing their home PC based on a national sample.

"Given our dependence on the Internet, unsecured home PC's are a threat to our economic and national security because they can be used unknowingly to launch attacks that cripple key resources used by business and government," said Bentley Professor Mary Culnan, lead researcher on the study. "Securing the Internet is everyone's responsibility. Our survey shows that people are not knowledgeable about current threats. ISPs, employers and academia are in an ideal situation to help educate consumers."

"Consumers often think they don't need to be concerned about Internet security because it's not likely they'll be affected by online threats, or if they are affected, the damage would be minimal," said Matthew Moynahan, vice president of consumer products and solutions, Symantec Corp. "Symantec is committed to educating consumers about best practices to protect their computers from cyber threats because the reality is that anyone who is online is susceptible. We offer free tools like Symantec Security Check, which scans computers and assesses whether or not they are vulnerable to attacks or infected with malicious code. Symantec also works with ISPs throughout the world by offering Internet security solutions and information that they can share with customers."


The Bentley survey also found that a large percentage of the public lacks knowledge about several Internet security issues:

  • 90 percent say they have installed antivirus software, but 10 percent never or rarely update their antivirus software
  • 30 percent are not knowledgeable about computer viruses
  • 40 percent are not knowledgeable about spyware
  • 49 percent are not knowledgeable about security flaws in Internet browsers
  • 44 percent are not knowledgeable about the ability of hackers to hijack home computers and use them to send spam

Respondents are evenly split about the appropriate public policy approach to home PC security:

  • 32 percent think companies in the computer industry should develop voluntary measures to ensure home computers are secure
  • 56 percent prefer that security software updates be automatically installed by manufacturers or ISP's
  • 35 percent think the U.S. government should pass laws now that would require the computer industry to implement measures to ensure all home computers are secure.

Other serious concerns among respondents include:

  • 48 percent are rarely sure or are unsure that sensitive information is encrypted before transmitting it over the Internet
  • 59 percent are concerned that hackers might harm American corporations or the government by breaking into their computers
  • 70 percent are concerned that hackers might use home computers to spread a virus over the Internet that harms other computers

Best practices consumers can follow to protect their computers against Internet threats include:

1. Use antivirus software and keep virus definitions updated.
2. Install a firewall to protect against Internet intruders.
3. Regularly download security updates for operating systems and other software.
4. Use passwords with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols that are at least 8 characters long and not dictionary words. Consumers should also change their passwords regularly.
5. Don't view, open or execute any e-mail attachments from an unknown source. Be suspicious of unexpected attachments even from people you know.
6. Disconnect from the Internet when not in use.

The Bentley Survey findings will be the focus of an upcoming public workshop, "Securing the Weak Link in Cyberspace," the second workshop held by Bentley on the topic. Scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004, at Bentley in Waltham, Mass., this year's workshop will focus on building a public/private partnership, explore strategies for promoting education and awareness among consumers about Internet security threats and how to ensure consumers install appropriate security solutions on their PC's.

Designed by Bentley Professors Mary Culnan, Ellen Foxman and Amy Ray, the survey was conducted by Harris Interactive® within the United States between July 8 and 13, 2004 among a nationwide cross section of 2,952 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 1,784 are employed full or part-time. No data were weighted.

In theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points for the overall sample. Sampling error for the U.S. adults who are employed full or part-time sample is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. This online sample was not a probability sample.

Harris Interactive estimates the U.S. adult population who are online at home to be 139 million individuals. Each response of 1% = 1.39 million people. These figures are based on U.S. Census estimate of 213 million adults overall in the U.S.

Note: Data for this survey were collected by the Harris Interactive on behalf of Bentley. Harris Interactive was solely responsible for the quality of the online data collected and Bentley is responsible for the survey design, data weighting or data analysis.

About Symantec
Symantec is the global leader in information security providing a broad range of software, appliances and services designed to help individuals, small and mid-sized businesses, and large enterprises secure and manage their IT infrastructure. Symantec's Norton brand of products is the worldwide leader in consumer security and problem-solving solutions. Headquartered in Cupertino, Calif., Symantec has operations in more than 35 countries. More information is available at

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive® ( is a global research firm that blends premier strategic consulting with innovative and efficient methods of investigation, analysis and application. Well known for The Harris Poll® and for pioneering Internet-based research methods, Rochester, New York-based Harris Interactive conducts proprietary and public research to help its clients around the world achieve clear, material and enduring results.

Harris Interactive combines its intellectual capital, databases and technology to advance market leadership through its U.S. offices and wholly owned subsidiaries: London-based HI Europe, Paris-based Novatris, Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan, recently acquired U.S.-based WirthlinWorldwide and through a global network of affiliate firms.


BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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