Is The World’s Online Privacy and Cybersecurity Awareness In Decline?

NordVPN Study Cybersecurity

The world’s online privacy and cybersecurity awareness is declining, according to new research by cybersec company NordVPN. Based on 25 analyzed markets with the highest numbers of responses, people globally performed best in recognizing various online risks and how to avoid them (73%), and worst in questions related to practices and tools to stay safe online (52%).

The annual National Privacy Test (NPT) is a global survey aimed towards evaluating people’s cybersecurity, online privacy awareness, and educating the general public about cyber threats and the importance of data and information security in the digital age. It gathered 26,174 responses from 175 countries this year.

“By engaging in the National Privacy Test, we aim to cultivate a community of privacy-conscious individuals who actively champion data protection. This initiative aligns with our vision to build a safer, more resilient digital landscape for now and future generations,” says Marijus Briedis, chief technology officer (CTO) at NordVPN.

Here are the countries in the top three spots with the best internet privacy and cybersecurity awareness:

  1. Poland and Singapore (64/100).
  2. Germany and the United States (63/100).
  3. The United Kingdom, Austria, and Portugal (62/100). 

However, results show that the world’s online privacy and cybersecurity awareness is declining every year. “With the growing complexity of online threats, it is not that surprising that the world’s online privacy and cybersecurity awareness has been on the decline. Paradoxically, the more security solutions there are out there, the worse the results get every year. Raising awareness about the potential risks and educating users about best practices should be at the forefront of our efforts,” says Marijus Briedis, CTO at NordVPN. 

People globally create strong passwords but fail with tools that protect digital privacy

Research shows that people globally are good at creating strong passwords (95%), and dealing with suspicious streaming service offers (94%). They also know what kind of sensitive data they should avoid sharing on social media (90%), or the risks associated with saving their credit card details on their browser (88%).

However, only 3% of people are knowledgeable about online tools that protect digital privacy, and only 11% know what data ISPs collect as part of the metadata. It seems that the “Joan is Awful” episode from Netflix’s show Black Mirror didn’t have the intended effect — only a third of people in the world know the importance of reading terms of service for apps and online services. However, this metric is improving faster than others (in 2021, only 21% answered correctly). 

Globally, 1% of people are Cyber Wanderers (barely know anything about internet privacy and cybersecurity), while 15% scored 75-100 points and were identified as knowledgeable Cyber Stars. It is worth noting that people ages 30-54 have the best cybersecurity skills, with most Cyber Stars in this age group. Younger respondents, students, and those over 54 didn’t do that well.

“I think there are a few reasons why cybersecurity knowledge is declining globally. The first and most important one might be the sheer volume of online activities and digital interactions that people engage in daily. Our previous research showed that people globally spend more than 27 years of their lifetime online. Secondly, as technology continues to advance, cybercriminals also adapt their tactics, making it challenging for the average user to keep up. Also, there is a common misconception that cybersecurity is solely the responsibility of service providers,“ says Briedis.

How have global results changed since 2021?

Compared to 2021, people are becoming more aware of the security benefits of updating apps as soon as an update is available. Back then, 62% answered correctly while in 2023 — 69%.

Additionally, people are improving at recognizing phishing attacks and the actions they should take while facing them. In 2021, more than half (55%) answered this question correctly while in 2023 this percentage increased to 62%

Who were the best at and who were the worst? 

In 2023, Poland and Singapore collected the highest number of correct answers while Japan and South Korea took the last spots. Singaporean participants have the most Cyber Stars compared to other countries, while Poland’s leading digital risk score reveals Poles know a lot about cyber threats and how to handle online safety risks.

Looking at privacy awareness, Japanese respondents scored the lowest among all 25 countries, tying with Italy. This finding shows a substantial knowledge gap and suggests people in Japan may need to educate themselves about online privacy risks. Additionally, half of the South Korean participants are Cyber Tourists. This group lacks cybersecurity knowledge and skills and may need to improve their online privacy habits.  

As for some European countries, France has the third-weakest privacy awareness score and one of the weakest daily digital life scores. Its total NPT score is 59% compared to 61% of the world. Also, German participants have the second-highest NPT score (63%) and share second place on the podium with the US. It’s worth adding that Germans are also highly aware of various digital privacy issues, achieving the second-best privacy awareness score with Finland.

On the contrary, Spanish respondents didn’t do that well, resulting in some of the weakest privacy awareness and digital risk scores. Spanish respondents (same as Italians) need to learn more about the privacy and security issues in connected devices. Its neighbor Portugal did better — it ended up third in the world.

Online security and privacy can be improved

Briedis from NordVPN provides a list of steps people should follow in order to increase the privacy and safety of their online presence: 

  1. Use strong and unique passwords. Create strong passwords for each of your online accounts and avoid using the same password across multiple platforms.
  2. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA). Implementing multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional verification, such as a one-time code sent to their phone, along with their password.
  3. Update your software regularly. Keeping software, operating systems, and applications up to date is crucial for fixing known vulnerabilities. Regular updates ensure that security patches are applied promptly, reducing the risk of exploitation by cybercriminals.
  4. Always use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your internet connection and helps protect your personal information from prying eyes. It is especially crucial when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.
  5. Review and adjust privacy settings on social media platforms, mobile apps, and other online services. Limiting access to personal data and choosing the minimum required permissions can help protect privacy.
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