Younger Australians less concerned about malware risk than older users: ACMA

Older Australians were more likely to perceive they are at risk from malware across a range of categories than younger Australians – yet defer to younger people to manage their security protections – according to recently released figures in an extensive ACMA survey.

The survey report, entitled Malware and Harmful Software: Consumer Views on Software Threats and Use of Protections, was based on a Roy Morgan Research survey of 1500 Australians.

Revelations from the research included the worrying finding that half of Australians believe they face no risk from malware, and the interesting finding that non English speaking Australians perceive a higher degree of risk from malware than English speakers.

When broken down by age, the findings showed a consistent rise in perceived threat from malware as age increased: while 19 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds said it was unlikely they would get a malware infection that would send spam or redirect them to fake websites – and 60 per cent said it was unlikely – fully 34 per cent of 50-to-64 year olds said it was unlikely and just 46 per cent said it was unlikely.

Those figures represent a 79 per cent increase in perception of malware risk amongst 50-to-64 year-olds compared with younger respondents. Younger Australians were also more certain about their perception of malware risk, with just 4 per cent saying they don't know about the risk while 12 per cent of 65-year-olds said the same.

Age-related variations were consistent across all four types of malware studied by ACMA, which included spam-sending or redirecting malware; malware that allows others to identify the Web sites users have visited and access their emails; and malware that affects the way their computer operates.

The fourth category – malware that "allows others to steal your personal or financial information" – had the largest generation gap, with just 17 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds saying it was likely and 62 per cent saying it was unlikely; by contrast, 35 per cent of 50-to-64 year olds said encountering such malware was likely, and just 45 per cent said it was unlikely.

Other results suggested 50-to-64 year olds were broadly more cautious than younger Australians when looking after information security: 91 per cent have protective software and 87 per cent keep it up to date, for example, compared with 87 per cent and 75 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds, respectively. Fully 87 per cent of 50-to-64 year olds immediately delete emails from unknown sources, compared with just 76 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds.

Other age groups showed the same increasing trend, although Australians aged 65+ were the least diligent in areas such as keeping browsers and program software up to date and avoiding certain Web sites.

Another interesting revelation emerged when respondents were questioned about who they believe is responsible for protecting computers and mobile devices.

Although the percentage of respondents conceding they are responsible for security hovered between 76 per cent and 79 per cent in 18-24, 35-49 and 50-64 age groups, those aged between 25 and 34 were more likely to take responsibility for their own security (85 per cent) and those above 65 were far less likely (67 per cent).

Those two groups also showed the largest variation in their belief that Internet service providers are responsible for protecting computers and mobile devices, with 3 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, pointing the finger at their ISPs.

ACMA already monitors Australia's malware exposure through its Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI) program, which reports around 35,500 malware-infected Australian IP addresses every day. AISI reports are fed to Australian ISPs, which in turn attempt to notify infected customers so that remediation can be undertaken.

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