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Source: PCWorld.com

Posted on August 16, 2001

      When it comes to online security, the Internet still has an image problem. Eighty-six percent of U.S. adults say they are very concerned about the security of online bank and brokerage transactions, according to a study released on Tuesday by Gartner.

      The report, "Privacy and Security: The Hidden Growth Strategy," was published by GartnerG2, a Gartner research service, and was based on two consumer surveys of more than 7000 adults over the age of 18 living in the United States, the company says in a statement. The surveys were conducted in September and October 2000, according to the study's author, Gartner analyst Laura Behrens.

      Of those polled, 83 percent say they were very worried about how secure their Social Security and credit card numbers were online, while 70 percent express concern over the security of personal information such as income and assets, Gartner says.

      "Though we didn't specifically ask people what they feared would happen to stolen online information, their main concern was clearly the loss of credit card numbers and secondly the loss of any other type of information that could have financial implications," Behrens says.

Three Key Issues

      According to Behrens, the study points to three levels of concern.

      "The top [level] is by far and away the concern over their financial information, such as credit card and banking information. The second level of concern is over safety for themselves in the physical world, where users are concerned about strangers having access to their home address or telephone number. In that instance it's mostly parents who are concerned for the physical safety of their children," Behrens says.

      The third level of online security concern--protecting the privacy of an online profile, including an e-mail address--is a much lower priority for Internet users, Behrens says.

      "Most people don't believe that their e-mail address makes it easy to trace their personal information in the physical world. But if people believed you could trace their home address through their e-mail address, that would quickly change," Behrens says.

High-Profile Viruses

      The study found that high-profile security breaches--such as the Sircam computer virus first reported on July 17--are the main factors feeding consumer fear of online fraud, Behrens says.

      Sircam is an e-mail virus that has the ability to remove documents from the hard drive of the system it has infected, then send a document to others when the worm spreads. It was also reported that in some cases the virus had deleted all of the files from some infected systems.

      "Computer viruses such as Sircam are a separate issue [from the protection of consumer data online], but people have a hard time tearing those two things apart. Things like Sircam and other viruses that send stuff out over the Internet to attack systems and that you don't have much control over induce much more anxiety in consumers [than other online security issues], and perhaps deservedly so," Behrens says.

      When asked what kept them from making online transactions, 60 percent of those surveyed pointed to security and privacy concerns as their main reason for shying away from doing business online, Gartner says.

      Only about half of all U.S. residents currently online use the Internet to buy products or services, partly due to the fact that consumers have not been educated on how to protect themselves online. Companies need to do more to make consumers aware of what security measures their Web site has in place and how it works, the study finds.

      Even among those who do make transactions online, many are still uncomfortable about providing personal information over the Internet. Nonetheless, 50 percent of those surveyed say that they've entered information to buy a product online in spite of their security concerns, Gartner says.

Conflicting Emotions

      As an indication of people's conflicting feelings about Internet security, a full 20 percent of survey respondents who say they made a purchase online within the last three months also indicate that they would not enter personal information such as their name or address into a Web page -- something that they had clearly already done, Gartner says.

      Behrens attributes the contradictory response to a number of factors. "One is that we are not entirely rational critters and we say contradictory things. We also forget things, such as having entered information onto a Web site," Behrens says.

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