With online services an important staple of the business processes of today's financial institutions, credit unions may be wondering: What worries consumers most when it comes to security, and what are they doing to protect themselves?
According to a new report released by business and technology research firm Forrester, "Consumers Turn to Freeware as Their Security Worries Deepen," a high level of concern exists among consumers, especially for malware, identity theft and privacy breaches.
To fight the threats, consumers have become increasingly savvy in their security protection choices, and they're often turning to freeware first, the report found.
"Consumers view computer security measures as necessary and multifaceted-but not wholly effective," Forrester's Jonathan Penn said. "They are assuming some of the responsibility for safeguarding their accounts, identity and information assets, while becoming less trusting of businesses in exercising the requisite care to protect their data."
Today's top three online security concerns reported by consumers-computer viruses, spyware and worms; personal data breaches and identity theft-haven't changed in the past three years and are felt most by women and baby boomers of both sexes (ages 44 to 64). The least concerned group is Generation Y (ages 18 to 29), the think firm's report said.
However, the findings (which were based on a survey of more than 4,600 online adults in North America) also said that adults across the board have demonstrated an educated, proactive approach to protecting themselves from security breaches.
"We found that consumers are recognizing the complex nature of online security and privacy and are generally responding with greater protective measures and more caution in their online activities," Penn said.
While increased awareness abounds, the report found that action against a key threat-identity theft-has not been taken boldly enough. Services that protect consumers from identity theft (such as theft prevention, recovery and credit monitoring and alerting tools) are growing, but consumers haven't utilized these as much as other security tools.
What kinds of security tools do consumers have a firm grasp on? Forrester found that for one, software suite solutions have taken the mainstream by storm, partially due to the fact they're often made by vendors that have earned trust with consumers (such as original equipment manufacturers and retailers). In addition, they attract consumers with a promise of doing it all.
But the top security solutions among consumers encompasses all aspects of security prevention and costs nothing. Freeware programs, which are widely available online, can be mixed and matched by consumers to create their own suite and are being researched extensively by consumers before they click download.
"Free security software products are taking a fairly big-and growing-bite out of the market," Penn said. "Consumers are undoubtedly driven by the price tag, finding the value of security software arbitrary and the pricing model confusing."
Antivirus programs top the list of free software downloads, as well as antispyware and pop-up blockers. Forrester also found that consumers research the effectiveness and security of programs before using them, a finding that aligns with the research firm's parallel finding that consumers have become savvy in their online security efforts.
Consumers seek advice from friends, family and technology providers on security strategies, tend to go with trusted brand names when selecting their tools and often pair a new computer purchase or ISP service change with beefed-up security.
Yet, anxiety remains high among consumers over the safety of their information. They worry that their activities and personal data may not remain private on the Internet and especially don't trust portal, e-mail and social network providers. (Financial services providers did fare better in consumer perception of providing security, the report said.)
"Consumers are becoming more protective of their personal data, including both the data that sites and services may invisibly collect about them as they surf as well as the data they consensually share online," Penn said.
"Consumers want to learn how to protect their computers and identities better," he added. "This presents a rare opportunity to build or solidify brand awareness through education."