Social Networking Poll Shows Users More Vulnerable Than Ever

AVG and CMO Council survey shows that the widespread and growing use of social networks at home and work is creating serious danger of web-borne identity theft and infection

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The results of “Bringing Social Security to the Online Community” poll were released in late August 2009, and they are highlighting the vulnerabilities and concerns of social community members around cyber-security and the precautions that they are taking or need to take to protect themselves.

The online survey conducted by AVG and the CMO Council reveals that while the social networking community has serious concerns about the overall security of public spaces, few are taking the most basic of steps to protect themselves against online crimes.

The survey shows that while the majority of social networking users are afflicted by web-borne security problems, less than one third are taking actions to protect themselves online.

The problem and I do not think that this should come as a surprise to anyone, is how vulnerable people make themselves in those networks and forums. Anyone who is using those social networks and similar systems can see how open people go about without the slightest consideration as to who could gain access to their personal info.

Participants indicated concern over growing phishing, spam and malware attacks, and nearly half of those surveyed are very concerned about their personal identity being stolen in an online community.

Many, however, do not use any proper measures to protect themselves despite the fact that both AVG and Finjan provide free browser tools that will check, for instance, the safety of links.

Often when people encounter problems and – for instance – contact me I am amazed (though really should not be anymore) how many of them have no or no updated AV and anti-malware programs on board.

The survey was conducted online during the second quarter of 2009 and gathered responses from a random sampling of more than 250 consumers. According to the poll results, despite widespread use (86 percent) of social networks at home and/or at work, most fail to perform the following basic security measures on a regular basis:
Changing passwords (64 percent infrequently or never)
Adjusting privacy settings (57 percent infrequently or never)
Informing their social network administrator (90 percent infrequently or never)

“As social networking populations grow globally and the proliferation of niche social networks and mobile offerings extends the reach of social communities, the threats and vulnerabilities are escalating accordingly,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “More frequent breaches and outbreaks on popular social sites are a testament to the need for a more preventative mindset and threat-alert culture among community users.”

Despite the apparent security risks and dangers of engaging in social networking sites, respondents identified several common practices that could cause harm to unprotected users:
21 percent accept contact offerings from members they don’t recognize
More than half let acquaintances or roommates access social networks on their machines
64 percent click on links offered by community members or contacts
26 percent share files within social networks

As a result of this widespread proliferation of links, files, and unsolicited contacts, users have experienced high levels of breaches and threats:
Nearly 20 percent have experienced identity theft
47 percent have been victims of malware infections
55 percent have seen phishing attacks

“The fact that users understand the risks, and yet are failing to take the basic steps to protect themselves presents an interesting challenge to companies, like AVG, that are working to create a safer cyber community,” said Siobhan MacDermott, Head of Public Policy, Corporate Communications and Investor Relations, AVG Technologies.

According to MacDermott, AVG hopes to reverse this trend on familiar turfs such as Facebook and Twitter. “Our Data Snatchers campaign is a viral effort that will not only get consumers thinking about their personal security but will also provide them with simple tools to do something about it when they are in the spaces that make them feel the most vulnerable.”

MacDermott said that the Data Snatchers campaign is about combining sound technology with safe practices while enjoying the social computing experience.

In addition to encouraging users to take advantage of AVG’s free security offering at MacDermott encourages users to follow Six Simple Steps to Stay Secure:
1.Do not accept pop-ups or prompts for software, unless you're armed with web scanner software such as AVG's free LinkScanner, which checks each site for infections prior to access.
2.Do not ever provide, post, or submit any confidential personal data (e.g., SSN, banking details, medical records). Social networking sites do not require this sort of information to join, unless you're online dating or paying monthly.
3.Change your password at least once a month. Do not change it if you're prompted to. This can be a third party malicious link.
4.Do not let friends, peers, coworkers, etc. access their social networks on your computer, nor yours on their machine. Others could introduce infections to your computer through unsafe practices, or your login security could be compromised via cookies saved on your computer.
5.Never auto save your password information, and clear your history at least once a week.
6.Do not accept friend requests or request friends that you personally do not know.

A full summary and presentation of the survey results and implications is available at

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The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council is dedicated to high-level knowledge exchange, thought leadership and personal relationship building among senior corporate marketing leaders and brand decision-makers across a wide-range of global industries. The CMO Council's 4,500 members control more than $120 billion in aggregated annual marketing expenditures and run complex, distributed marketing and sales operations worldwide. In total, the CMO Council and its strategic interest communities include over 12,000 global executives across 90 countries in multiple industries, segments and markets. Regional chapters and advisory boards are active in the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. The Council's strategic interest groups include the Coalition to Leverage and Optimize Sales Effectiveness (CLOSE), Brand Management Institute, and the Forum to Advance the Mobile Experience (FAME).

AVG is a global security software maker protecting more than 80 million consumers and small businesses in 167 countries from the ever-growing incidence of web threats, viruses, spam, cyber-scams and hackers on the Internet. AVG has nearly two decades of experience in combating cyber crime and one of the most advanced laboratories for detecting, pre-empting and combating Web-borne threats from around the world. Its free, downloadable software allows novice users to have basic anti-virus protection and then easily upgrade to greater levels of safety and defense when they are ready. AVG has nearly 6,000 resellers, partners and distributors globally including, CNET, Cisco, Ingram Micro,, Wal-Mart, and Yahoo!

While AVG, obviously, would want you to buy their pay-for products the AVG Free protects very well indeed and is program that I do advise to anyone who is willing to listen.

Combined with a few other programs such as PC Tools' “Threatfire” (please do not attempt to use in conjunction with ZoneAlarm) and with the use of proper caution at all times, problems should not occur.

© 2009