Australians worry about data security but remain blasé about behaving securely

In a climate of rising fraud, most consumers are still transacting online despite poor security habits

Credit: ID 123787288 © Fandijki |

Nearly all Australian consumers are conducting financial transactions online but almost half don’t know how to protect themselves online or simply can’t be bothered, according to a study of consumer attitudes that confirms many users are leaving themselves wide open to potential compromise.

Some 94 percent of the 1062 Australian consumers surveyed in ESET’s Australian Cyberawareness Index 2019 said they do their online banking, bill payments and online shopping online, while 56 percent conduct transactions from their smartphones.

Yet while 77 percent of respondents said they often or occasionally worry about the security of their data, fully 36 percent said they often or occasionally conduct financial transactions over public Wi-Fi – an access mechanism that ESET senior research fellow Nick FitzGerald called “a security quagmire” – and 26 percent use public Wi-Fi rarely.

“It is very easy for bad actors to steal data, including account credentials, and to spy on users using public Wi-Fi,” FitzGerald said, recommending use of cellular data instead and noting that cybercriminals often create malicious Wi-Fi networks to which users connect.

“Using public Wi-Fi for financial transactions is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided wherever possible.”

Many respondents had already worn the consequences of this poor security, with 20 percent reporting their devices have been hit by a virus, ransomware, or malware.

Fully 18 percent said they had had a social-media account compromised, while 15 percent said their email had been compromised. Some 15 percent had lost money to an online banking fraud or scam, and 14 percent had been hit by a fraud or scam sent to their mobile phone.

The survey was conducted in August, before the commencement of the current holiday shopping season – which saw cybercriminals preparing to do their worst and, by some accounts, succeeding.

An Iovation survey of holiday retail fraud found that levels of suspected e-commerce fraud were up 60 percent this year on last.

Cyber attacks also surged over the period with cloud security firm Instart reporting that the number of web application firewall (WAF) attacks it handled on Black Friday double that of the previous Friday.

Likewise, Cyber Monday saw twice the level of attacks on the previous Monday. Most attacks came from the US and China, with Instart handling 1.36 billion WAF attacks during November and an average of 43.8m attacks managed per day.

Steadily rising volumes of cybercriminal attacks and potential fraud are a reminder for users to take at least basic precautions – such as choosing strong and unique passwords, and backing up data.

“It’s important for Australians to educate themselves so they know when they’re being scammed because the losses can be significant,” FitzGerald said.

“Installing security measures is also key and, together with a vigilant approach, can help protect users against most threats. For users that don’t know what security steps to take, it’s important to proactively seek education and information to avoid becoming a victim.”

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