While the majority of Americans have experienced some kind of data breach and nearly half believe that their personal information is less secure than it was five years ago, we're still not following the best practices of keeping our private data safe.
A recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center asked 1,040 adults about their cybersecurity habits in the spring of 2016 and found that while privacy is something many worry about, far fewer people are taking the necessary precautions. This was even the case in looking at people who have experienced privacy breaches in the past.
"In many cases, people's personal experiences with data theft or data breaches in their own lives are not necessarily linked with their personal behaviors," report co-author Aaron Smith told Vocativ. "They express generally elevated levels of worry about the safety of their personal information but we don't see them taking a lot of concrete steps to lock it down or engage in more rigorous security practices."
Instead he says that these Americans, and many others, are "taking the security path of least resistance and crossing their fingers and hoping for the best."
Password protection is perhaps the most significant means by which everyday citizens can protect their personal data, as phishing scams and leaks are among the most likely risks they face when it comes to being targeted. Yet only 12 percent of people say they use a password management program, the most secure means of maintaining one's passwords.
Web-based password managers like KeePass and LastPass are inexpensive, and (while not totally immune from hacking themselves) can help people manage strong and unique passwords that they wouldn't possibly be able to memorize. Easy-to-remember passwords are the method the frightening majority of people say they use most often, a data point that makes sense given the fact that so many people — especially young people — are using the same or similar passwords for numerous accounts.
"Bad cybersecurity habits tend to cross a lot of different boundaries," Smith said. "Young adults tend to be more tech savvy … but they do a lot of behaviors that experts strongly caution against. While they're technically literate in many ways … they're not always engaging in the recommended practices."
This finding also confirms what we already know about how commonly people are using insecure passwords for the sake of convenience. A recent study showed that many Americans are still relying on the same old, super-hackable passwords like "qwerty" and "password" with easy-to-guess number combinations like "123456." Young people are also more likely to share passwords with friends and family, especially those under the age of 30. Luckily, they're also within the demographic more likely to use two-step authentication, something that should be utilized whenever possible.
Another finding within the report is that people are failing to update their apps or smartphone operating systems automatically or as soon as the option becomes available. This, along with using public WiFi networks for communications that should be done over a secure connection, like banking and purchasing, can leave people vulnerable to data breaches.
"We see a little bit of a split personality," Smith said. "People are upset about the state of their data and their lack of agency in protecting their data, while at the same time they're not necessarily going to great ends to protect it on their own end."
In order to find out whether people are intentionally disregarding advice or simply unaware of their own risk factors, Pew has also been collecting responses on Americans' knowledge of security best practices. While that data is still in the process of being analyzed, Smith says that, generally, "there's a lot of confusion."
At a point in time where cybersecurity awareness is more important than ever as record-breaking hacks become commonplace, he says it's especially important to identify these gaps in knowledge.
"All you have to do is turn on the news over the past couple months to see that cybersecurity best practices have impacted everything from general safety of individuals' personal information to potentially the outcome of an election," he said.
This article originally appeared at Vocativ.com: All the ways we're failing to secure our digital privacy