In 2017, cybercriminals were able to access the private financial records of more than 147.9 million Americans, 15.2 million British citizens, and around 19,000 Canadian citizens through a data breach at the American credit bureau Equifax.
The Equifax data breach remains one of the largest cyber crimes, related to identity theft, of all time, and was a worrying indicator of larger data breaches to come.
However, what was even more worrying was the average American’s reaction to it. A Tenable survey at the time showed that, despite 94 percent of Americans hearing of the breach, only 43 percent changed their online habits.
The Equifax data breach contained large amounts of personal data, such as social security numbers, meaning nearly 150 million Americans will have to spend the rest of their lives monitoring for identity theft. Given that fact, this general apathy is a clear symptom of one thing.
Most people are still cyber illiterate.
What Is Cyber Literacy?
At its most basic, cyber literacy is the ability to efficiently use computer technologies and to understand the implications of their use.
As an example, cyber literacy isn’t just the ability to use email, it also encompasses the understanding that opening unsolicited email attachments is a security risk.
Cyber literate individuals can both effectively use digital technology and are more secure while using it. This added layer of security is known as cyber hygiene.
What Is Cyber Hygiene?
In many ways, cyber hygiene can be compared to personal hygiene. Every day, most of us have a personal hygiene routine filled with activities that help us maintain our health and wellbeing.
Cyber hygiene is a similar routine that helps keep our computer equipment, mobile devices, and personal data safe from cybercriminals.
Some easy steps to better cyber hygiene include:
- Creating complex passwords that feature multiple cases, special symbols, and combinations of letters and numbers.
- Not using the same password on multiple accounts or devices.
- Regularly changing passwords on all accounts.
- Not opening or downloading unsolicited attachments sent through email.
- Not revealing personal information on social media.
- Keeping all operating systems up to date.
- Installing and regularly using antivirus software.
Why Are Cyber Literacy and Cyber Hygiene So Important?
During the first half of 2020, data breaches exposed over 36 billion personal records. The number of security breaches resulting in the release of personal information has increased by 67 percent since 2014.
These breaches have a real impact on those whose personal information is stolen, opening them up to theft, identity fraud, tax fraud, and a whole range of other malicious activities.
The total cost related to damages caused by cybercrime is slated to hit $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.
The reality is that 94 percent of malware is delivered by something as simple as an email attachment. Proper digital literacy helps users understand the implications of events like unsolicited email attachments and how to deal with them, leading to better cyber hygiene and lowered risk.
However, despite the increasing regularity of cybercrime and data breaches, 64 percent of Americans have never even checked to see if their personal information was released during a breach.
Even when they have checked, 56 percent of Americans have no idea what steps they need to take to protect themselves in the aftermath of a data breach.
When it comes to maintaining basic device security, only 25 percent of Americans have two-factor authentication enabled.
Even more worrisome, only half of Americans regularly use a password to lock their computers. Less than half use a pin to protect their mobile devices. Only 19 percent of Americans reported enabling biometric security.
What this all adds up to is the fact that around one in every two Americans lacks even a basic level of cyber literacy or cyber hygiene.
What Can I Do to Improve My Cyber Literacy?
The first step in improving your cyber literacy is through education. There is a wide range of easy to absorb online courses you can attend that cover the basics of cybersecurity.
These courses are an excellent way to learn about common cybersecurity threats such as malware, social engineering, ransomware, and phishing scams.
Educating yourself in these areas gives you the tools and knowledge you need to react quickly and effectively to cybersecurity events like data breaches, keeping you and your personal data safe.