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Our online behaviour is much more unsafe than we think

Saying that you behave safely online turns out to be quite different from actually doing it. Research by The Hague University of Applied Sciences and the NSCR shows that Dutch people do not behave safely online. In addition, the more people know about cybersecurity, the less secure they will act online. The results therefore question the effectiveness of merely creating more awareness.

Online crime is common and the impact on victims can be significant. Despite technical measures such as virus scanners and firewalls, much of the victimization can be traced back to people's behaviour. The aim of this research was to map out how the Dutch really behave online. Interventions can be developed on this basis in the future.

Weak passwords, clicks on unsafe links, and sharing personal information

A large part of the Dutch do not appear to behave safely online. A striking feature of this study is the big difference between the self-reported behaviour and the objectively measured online behaviour. The researchers looked at the use of passwords, saving important files, installing updates, use of security software, alertness during Internet use, online sharing of personal information and handling attachments and hyperlinks in e-mails. The objective measurements show that people's cyber behaviour is less safe than they themselves think. For example, nearly 60% use a weak password, 40% download insecure software and about 30% of the respondents share personal information such as their full name, date of birth and email address. If respondents are offered phishing e-mails, more than 20% click on the hyperlink or copy the URL to the web browser. It also appears that people do not exhibit consistent safe behaviour. For example, when someone deals safely with phishing, this does not mean that someone also chooses a strong password.

Knowledge about cyber security does not always lead to safer behaviour

The respondents in the survey also conducted a test to measure their knowledge of safe behaviour on the internet. People with the most knowledge about cybersecurity are also the most likely to say that they behave safely online. But the objective measurements reveal a different picture: respondents with more knowledge about cybersecurity, on the other hand, more often use a weak password and download unsafe software more often.

Publication details and further reading

S. van ’t Hoff – de Goede, R. van der Kleij, S. van de Weijer & R. Leukfeldt (2019). Hoe veilig gedragen wij ons online? Een studie naar de samenhang tussen kennis, gelegenheid, motivatie en online gedrag van Nederlanders.

Dr Steve van de Weijer

Senior Researcher

Prof. Rutger Leukfeldt

Senior Researcher

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