Privacy and security: Where do we go from here?

Some of you may remember a time when national security was a question of police officers protecting individuals from crime on the street, or the Army’s defence against international threats.

Today, that picture looks very different. If anything, it is more volatile, uncertain and complex than it was in the past because it is now plagued by online security concerns, whether individual privacy whilst browsing online, harmful material to younger internet users or hackers trying to access your internet banking.

With every benefit that technology has brought us – global communication, mobile working and easy money management – comes additional risks to watch out for. We all know what the media, businesses and government have to say about national security and protecting consumers, but what about the consumer’s opinion? We recently commissioned Opinium Research to find out and here’s what we discovered…

The encryption dispute

Earlier this year, Apple was put in the hot seat when the FBI demanded it unlock an iPhone recovered from shooters during a terrorist attack in San Bernardino. The FBI also demanded that Apple create a permanent backdoor into iPhones so that it could access phones in the future. Many argued this would weaken the security of Apple’s own products, and many technology organisations backed Apple’s decision not to cooperate. What did the 7,000 consumers we surveyed across Europe and the Middle East think? When asked whether private technology companies should prioritise national security over consumer privacy, providing unlocked devices, more of them agreed – 43 per cent to be exact, rising to 50 per cent in the UK. The rest of the respondents were split evenly between undecided (24 per cent) or agreeing that technology organisations should not hand over unlocked devices to the government, prioritising privacy (26 per cent).

Privacy and national security aside, the use of smartphones across the globe is at an all-time high, with two-thirds of people owning one in the UK. These devices give us instant access to social media sites, government portals, mobile banking and online shopping. But despite the regular engagement consumers have with organisations online, how far do they trust them with their data? Banks and healthcare companies appeared to have more consumer trust, selected as trustworthy by 76 per cent and 75 per cent respectively. But social media brands and marketing companies had the least trust out of the 10 sectors consumers choose from, both were trusted by only 25 per cent of customers. That’s not to say they’re losing out – social media use has risen significantly in the past 10 years and marketing companies are thriving through these platforms – but expect to see consumers paying more attention to who they share their data with.

Additionally, consumers are concerned about how much companies are investing in stronger security measures. Overall, 88 per cent of consumers felt strongly that organisations needed to improve authentication (logins) for greater security. Banks (77 per cent), public sector and government (71 per cent) and insurance companies (73 per cent) were most in need of doing so, according to consumers.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

The majority of social media sites are free to use, but at what cost? By signing up to these sites, consumers are agreeing to these companies storing and using their data to allow third party organisations to target them with adverts. Most people are aware of this, but social media sites allow us to use their services for free because they receive more value from using their consumer data for marketing insights. With this in mind, how willing are people to give up their information in return for free services? The research found that 1 in 10 people were willing to give up their financial information (income, debt, mortgage), whilst half would share their personal interests and 53 per cent would share their date of birth. It may seem like a lot of information to give away, particularly considering the lack of trust towards social media brands, who have access to some of this information.

We could also take into consideration what consumers care most about when using a company’s website. Organisations rush to give the fastest and most seamless online experience, when actually, strong security measures (35 per cent) are seen as more important than content (25 per cent) and ease of use and functionality (24 per cent). Only 11 per cent stated speed of website was what they cared about the most and 4 per cent appearance and design, giving companies a lot to think about when investing in their online offering.

Who’s looking after who?

There is still much debate over who should be responsible for keeping consumers safe from cyber terrorist threats. When asked this question, responses were divided, although more respondents (43 per cent) leaned towards the government, followed by self-protection (21 per cent) and global protection organisations (17 per cent). Only 6 per cent said private companies should be responsible, yet we see some of the biggest data breaches occur within these companies.

The reality is, everyone holds some responsibility in defending against cyber terrorism. Not only does the government need to set the standard for cyber security defences, private organisations need to work with consumers to ensure that they are educated about keeping themselves safe online and offline.

The split results demonstrate that overall, responsibility cannot reside with one party.

MIke Convertino, CISO and VP, Information Security at F5 Networks

Image source: Shutterstock/Titima Ongkantong