Smartphone vs laptop survey shows false sense of security

Consumers show greater concern for smartphone security, but laptop vulnerabilities pose the biggest threat.

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Credit: Purism

It’s hard to turn on the television or read another article about corporate data breaches. With that kind of coverage, one would think that most Americans are taking their own personal cybersecurity very seriously. Not so.

According to a recent survey from AlertSec, only 45% of Americans know they have anti-virus protection on their laptops.

But despite all the information that is stored on your laptop. Most Americans only really care about whether their phone is encrypted. “While most people work on laptops or desktops for their job. They likely think they’re employer is making sure it is secure. To them, mobile devices are more personal and they are more of an extension of the user,” Says AlertSec CEO Ebba Blitz.

The survey found that 19 percent of Americans say the reason they care more about protecting what’s on their smartphone than on their laptop. That’s likely because pretty much everyone has a smartphone these days.

According to the latest report from the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans now own a smartphone, with lower-income Americans and those ages 50 and older exhibiting a sharp uptick in ownership over the past year. Smartphone adoption has more than doubled since 2011.

AlertSec recently conducted research which showed that there are two main reasons why Americans care more about protecting what’s on their iPhone or Android than what’s on their laptop.

Smartphone vs. laptop security

In an age of social media and a plethora of dating apps, taking selfies, sharing selfies (even racy ones) and receiving selfies from friends means there are likely more photos of you and your friends stored on your mobile device than anywhere else. Just consider how many photos are snapped before the one perfect photo is uploaded to Instagram or Facebook. 14% of Americans say making sure their mobile device has proper encryption is more important than whether their laptop has it, according to AlertSec’s research.

Smartphones and law enforcement searches

Another worry for roughly seven percent of Americans is that police access smartphones for court cases. NPR.org interviewed Rolf Norton, a homicide detective in Seattle who said he is always keeping an eye out for a person’s smartphone when he is interviewing them.  "I'm thinking there's probably a wealth of information that just got tucked into your pocket," Norton says. "Something that we'd like to get our hands on." The photos, emails and call data stored on the phone, not to mention the GPS data, says Norton, could easily make or break a case. 

Password protected smartphones create a false sense of security

Blitz says that standard security precautions—like lock screen passwords—create a false sense of security for mobile and laptop users. Perhaps this is because there are a variety of easy ways to hack into a password- protected device. Just ask the internet.

While the biggest worries around cybersecurity for the majority of Americans may be around their smartphones, Blitz says people should not forget about their larger, more powerful laptop computers. During the summer months many Americans take their laptops on vacation with them to download photos or sneak in some extra work while the kids are at the beach.  Beyond any work files that may be stored on their notebook computers. Alertsec found that nearly one in five Americans had sensitive tax and credit card information stored on their laptops versus their smartphones. While important financial data could be compromised, a stolen or misplaced laptop could also be a gateway to more personal information being exposed. Eighty percent of information theft is due to lost or stolen laptops and other equipment. Ebbitz says, “The more information we store in the cloud, the more we need to secure the endpoints. Especially since user names and passwords are stored in the browser, a hacked laptop could mean giving away the keys to the figurative kingdom, especially if all of your online accounts set to remember you.”

At the end of the day, you may care more about keeping your smartphone secure, but don’t forget your laptop has much more stored on it that could expose much more than racy selfies to would-be hackers.

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