According to the Digital Britain report, the number of UK households with Internet access grew by 1.2 million in the 12 months to June 2009 and with two thirds of homes now connected, over 70 per cent of us use the Internet daily. A major driver for this shift to online is the accessibility of broadband, the growth of affordable Internet enabled devices and an increasing amount of information and services becoming available on the web.
For many people, the Internet is the primary source of news, information and entertainment; a platform to communicate with friends and family; and increasingly even a place to search for jobs, shop and bank. In fact, according to Citizens Online, last year 22 million adults used the Internet to manage their main current account. This staggering number is more than half of the estimated total of 41.4 million regular UK Internet users.
As we grow increasingly accepting of sharing every detail of our lives online, we seem to be becoming less discerning about what information we share and where it is posted. This is great news for identity thieves who are constantly on the prowl for credit card information, passwords and deeply personal details (such as date of birth or mother's maiden name). All this can be used for fraudulent purchases, acquiring sensitive and personal documents or even registering businesses or stealing identities.
Despite these well-known risks, many of us seem willing to overlook Internet safety in the name of convenience - after all, it is practical to be able to bank or shop at any time, on-the-go or from the comfort of our own home. The problem is that it is the large number of users who are not digitally savvy and are not aware of Internet safety issues, that will be most exposed to dangers on the web.
Adding to the problem, is the fact that some people believe that only children are at risk on the Internet. We read endless stories in the media reporting that children are being bullied, have been stalked and are overexposing themselves online.
The truth is that adults and children share many of the same Internet risks - but due to the large amounts of information adults store online, they could be even more at risk than youngsters.
For example, only recently, the Guardian Jobs web site was hacked, compromising the personal data of millions of users who posted their CVs online. Banks, online stores, social networking and dating sites as well as blogs have been targeted by attackers and fraudsters. Just in December 2009, Suffolk County National Bank announced a security breach on one of its online banking servers with 8,378 customer credentials stolen. This breach shows that even apparently trustworthy web sites need to be treated with caution.
To help people avoid security breaches and choose where to navigate safely, its important that adults are educated about Internet risks not only to protect themselves, but those around them, as well as their children. To support this, there are some innovative initiatives taking place that focus on protecting people online, making the Internet safer for everyone.
For example, the UK Crime And Disorder Reduction Partnership has been granted Nominet Trust funding to kick-start the development of a strategic approach to protecting individuals and businesses from crime, anti-social behaviour and nuisance activity online. The project will complete an 'audit' of Internet-related crime, complementing the work of law enforcement and implementing a preventative approach to Internet crime.
When used carefully, the Internet is a great tool that can indeed make our lives easier. Only by ensuring that all adults with access to the Internet are well aware of the risks they may encounter while surfing the web, can we limit criminal activity online and make the Internet a helpful and safe platform for everyone.