When if comes to keeping online information safe from hackers and other criminals, it's up to individual users to keep their data secure.
Unfortunately, many Internet users don't take that responsibility seriously, thinking that's the job of the Internet provider or even the company that manufactured the computer.
The end-user is often the "weakest link" in the Internet safety chain, said Saleem Alhabash, Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations and the Department of Media and Information.
Alhabash is part of a team researching ways of making the Web safer for its users.
The team's conclusion: Internet users have to take personal responsibility for their safety and security. This includes taking the necessary steps to learn how it can be done.
"If somebody can say, ‘yeah, it's my responsibility, no one is going to do it for me,' then they are more likely to be more motivated to try and do it," Alhabash said.
Another problem is many people are leery of the technology and feel they don't have the know-how to enact safety features.
"What's interesting is those who said they didn't know much about online safety were willing to learn and be more careful," said Ruth Shillair, a doctoral student in the Department of Media and Information who is a member of the research team. "Many of those who said they knew a lot about online safety actually had poor safety habits, taking needless risks."
But can someone be taught personal responsibility? "It isn't something you can easily teach," said Nora Rifon, Professor in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations and a member of the research team. "It's an attitude that needs to be encouraged."
People need to realize, the researchers said, that their actions, or inactions, can affect more than just themselves but the entire corporation or institution for which they work.
Organizations can help by providing the proper training for its staff. This includes offering employees what they call "vicarious" learning experiences.
"Using this method, a person not only watches someone else do it, they try it themselves," Rifon said. "They also have to tailor the intervention to the level of knowledge and responsibility of the person."
It's estimated that global Internet security breaches result in losses of more than $400 billion a year.
ComArtSci's Online Security Team recently published a paper, titled "Online safety begins with you and me: Convincing Internet users to protect themselves," in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Shillair was the lead author of that paper. Other researchers who contributed to the paper, include Alhabash; Rifon; Shelia Cotten, Professor in the Department of Media and Information; Robert LaRose, recently retired Professor in the Department of Media and Information; and Hsin-Yi Sandy Tsai, Media and Information doctoral student.