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Sad fact of the day: Most people still don't know how to protect themselves online

Greater transparency about snooping, tracking needed

In light of the contrast between widely observed personal security routines such as locking the door at night and more carefree behavior online, Mozilla decided to interrogate its community to find out what people think about security, encryption, and privacy.

The advocacy-oriented maker of Firefox and other less-loved software chose to ask about 30,000 members of its community from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and the US questions about how they rate their ability to protect themselves online.

The good news is that 8.9 per cent opted for the multiple choice answer, "I'm basically Mr Robot." These people consider themselves to be skilled technical experts. Spoiler alert: If you've actually seen the TV series Mr Robot, that comparison suggests you're deluding yourself.

Among the remainder, 11.5 per cent of respondents said they knew nothing and pleaded for help, 74.6 per cent said they knew a little but not enough, and 5 per cent suggested they were fine because they haven't been hacked so far.

In total, about 90 per cent lacked confidence in their abilities to protect themselves online.

In an email to The Register, Ashley Boyd, VP of advocacy at Mozilla, said the company launched the survey knowing that, even among the web-savvy, many people feel their privacy and security is eroding.

"What was surprising was the high percentage of people who identified as truly feeling defenseless," said Boyd. "Over 90 per cent of survey respondents said they don't know much about protecting themselves online. And nearly a third of respondents feel like they have no control at all over their personal information online."

Such sentiments, said Boyd, are why Mozilla is developing products that advance privacy and security and is creating media content that serves to educate and advocate.

Mozilla's advice to those with security concerns is to keep software and devices updated.

That's a start, but it's also worth remembering not to open electronic files you weren't expecting, to know where links point before you click on them, and even to read email as plain text.

About one in ten respondents "feel like they have total control over their personal information online." That's the Mr Robot group making itself known again.

About a third "feel like they have no control at all over their personal information online," which is not far from the truth. While people can take steps to avoid broadcasting certain kinds of personal information, many online services require information and security failures somewhere along the line can undo personal diligence.

Mozilla says this attitude is most prevalent among people who don't understand encryption, a group that also amounts to about a third of respondents. Sadly, it doesn't have an answer to address perceived loss of control. Instead, the company suggests using Private Browsing mode in Firefox, without emphasizing that this only limits data storage in the browser itself, not at ISPs or third-party services. It would have done better to explain why everyone needs a VPN, if not Tor.

Mozilla also reports that 8 in 10 respondents fear being hacked and that 61 per cent expressed concern about being tracked by advertisers.

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