Young slow on online protection
Younger people are least likely to protect themselves online, according to new research. Photo: Phil Carrick
But younger people are least likely to protect themselves online, according to market research firm IBI Partners' study - Online consumer behaviour throughout the Asia Pacific.
The study - which interviewed more than 20,000 people in 12 countries - found only 39 per cent of Australians aged between 18 and 30 took active measures to prevent online security breaches.
David Gorodyansky, the chief executive of AnchorFree - a US company that sells software to encrypt users' online data in public wifi zones - said many still took online communication for granted.
''If you walk into my house you'll know a lot less about me than if you look in my browsing data,'' he said. ''People have a lock on their door at home but they don't have a lock on their door online.''
Mr Gorodyansky said it was easier to compromise online data as more of it - and the technologies used to hack it - was accessible, with more people using the internet to communicate in daily life as a matter of course.
''If you go around to every Starbucks, or airport you can see everything people do on their wifi networks. Their bank accounts, their browsers, their email passwords - everything they're doing. Firefox extension Firesheep, which demonstrates internet hijacking, takes five minutes to install and it's open-source and it's free.
''So I think the bad guys are advancing a lot faster than consumers are reacting.''
David Freer, the Asia-Pacific vice-president of anti-virus company Norton by Symantec, agreed, saying people were too comfortable sharing and storing their passwords and banking details on their mobile phone, which could be stolen or lost, and social media networks, which could be interfered with.
He said Norton research this year showed 40 per cent of Australian mobile phone owners did not have passwords on their phones.
Mr Freer said the perception of anonymity had made mobile phones and social media networks the newest risk areas for privacy breaches.
"We're seeing all the scams we used to see five years ago - don't open an email attachment from someone you don't know - all being reborn because people are getting what they think is a link from a friend and getting infected (by computer viruses)," he said.
Such companies are examples of the beneficiaries of the veritable industry surrounding online privacy that has proliferated since the advent of the internet about 20 years ago.
Both Freer and Gorodyansky said they had to be careful to be transparent about how they encrypt their own customers' data.
"We've got as much if not more to lose if there's any compromise of a user’s data because that is our business," Mr Freer said.
But the steps people could take to protect their own online identities could be as simple as changing their internet browser settings to private, Mr Gorodyansky said.
Melbourne University PhD candidate Alif Wahid, who researches network security, agreed, saying changing passwords regularly and downloading up-to-date anti-virus software, were often the most effective measures.
Stephen Wilson, founder of digital privacy group Lockstep, recommended people destroy their old hard drives and mobile phones instead of selling them, as information stored on the devices could be retrieved.
"I tell people to actually to get into the computer, take the hard drive out and hit it with a hammer," said Mr Wilson, who has 17 years of experience in internet security.
"You can delete the photos on your device but there are plenty of forensic tools that can hack into it. A discarded iPhone, even if you think you've deleted everything, can be hacked into and have that information retrieved."
The Age has launched a series on privacy and wants to hear from you.