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Are Americans getting cyber security wrong?

From the presidential debates to popular television shows, cybersecurity has been one of the most talked about topics among Americans over past few years. This isn’t surprising, considering the scary statistics that frequently make headlines.

Some sources claim that in 2014 alone, more than 317 million new computer viruses, worms, Trojans, and other malicious software were released; 47 per cent of American adults had their information exposed by hackers; and nearly 1.5 million cyberattacks occurred in the U.S.

Rational Concerns, Irrational Reactions

People are losing faith in the Internet. In fact, one survey found that 19 per cent of Internet-using households have been affected by an online security breach, identity theft, or similar malicious activity, and that the most common security concern was about identity theft. The same survey found that concerns surrounding security stopped an overwhelming 45 per cent of online households from making online financial transactions, buying goods or services online, and posting on social networks.

While these concerns are rational, are those reactions valid?

In many ways, they aren’t. While Internet users may hesitate to make online purchases, conduct transactions, or post on social media, many don’t take the necessary steps to protect their computers against viruses and hacks by updating their software or securing their account passwords. Nearly one-quarter of computers aren’t protected with antivirus software — and those computers not running real-time security software are 5.5 times as likely to be infected with malware as protected computers.

This isn’t the only common security risk people take — another survey found that 50 per cent of Internet users connect to public Wi-Fi weekly, less than one-fifth update their software immediately, and 59 per cent of millennials store passwords in their Internet browser. Accessing websites, even those that are encrypted, while using public Wi-Fi increases the chances of identity theft and viruses. The same goes for saving passwords in a browser’s keychain and neglecting to update a computer’s software or operating system.

Up-And-Coming Solutions

Major data breaches that have taken place over the past few years have increased funding for budding companies with fresh ideas to protect consumers in the areas where they don’t seem to be protecting themselves. Figures from CB Insights show a significant increase in funding for cyber security startups over the past five years, more than doubling to $3.8 billion in 2015.

Ionic Security is one of these cyber security unicorns receiving funding. The firm has received funding from Amazon and Goldman Sachs to secure users against data breaches and attacks on personal and company-owned devices.

A rep from Goldman Sachs says that the firm’s partnership with Ionic Security will cover an important yet unsolved security issue for corporations which is “How to enable employees to utilise modern communication and collaboration platforms while also maintaining adequate controls and security standards.”

Amazon, which plans to work with Ionic to secure information in the cloud and make the software available across AWS, says “The goal of our collaboration with Ionic is to deliver these services to any organisation, at scale with provisioning, management ease and streamlined procurement via AWS Marketplace.”

It’s the hope that Ionic’s innovation in cyber security might help protect corporate and personal accounts from being hacked through login portals and cloud storage.

When it comes to the issue of users ignoring important antivirus updates on their devices, Cylance is another rising cyber security startup that might just have an answer.

The next-generation antivirus software is engineered to run with minimal updates, fewer system resources, and limited network and user impact. The program uses data to keep core systems healthy, which deviates from the norm in terms of the way other cyber security companies approach attack prevention.

The company has raised $15 million from Khosla and Fairhaven Capital. Although Cylance faces a tough road ahead as it attempts to reshape the way the tech world views antivirus software, baking its suggested solutions into devices and programs could be the ideal form of protection for users who neglect updating their devices’ antivirus software.

Getting Our Cyber Security Priorities Straight

Although current and emerging cyber security companies are constantly developing tools, services, and security measures to help keep hackers at bay, there will always be some risk when using the Internet. There are too many advanced hackers and viruses out there to safeguard our online identity completely. Practicing safe Internet habits, however, can significantly improve our nation’s online users’ safety.

Cybercrime is real, but that doesn’t mean we can’t shop online, post on Facebook, or check our bank accounts. Instead, we should focus on taking the necessary steps to prevent hackers from accessing our personal information using research-backed and statistically proven methods.

Image source: Shutterstock/Den Rise