Study: Poor Decision-Making Can Lead to Cybersecurity Breaches

A recent study by Michigan State University confirms that even smart people can make poor choices that might lead them to significant trouble with hackers or identity thieves.

Researchers pointed their finger at the recent Sony hack as an example of smart people making poor decisions. As the Sony breach unfolded, we quickly learned that executives made comments over email that were later exposed to the public during the breach and that basic online security measures that could have deterred hackers were overlooked.

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“A lot of people were making bad decisions, sharing passwords, etc., that led to this event," Michigan State University's Rick Wash said in a press release. “But what's the reasoning process behind these decisions?"

Wash's research reveals that the way people visualize and conceptualize hackers and other criminals weighs heavily on their cyber security decision-making.

“People tend to focus on a picture they have in their head when conceptualizing hackers and virus makers," Wash said. “I have found two of these pictured individuals to be the most common and easily recognizable: The teenager on a computer in their parents' basement, or the professional criminal in a foreign country. Those who picture the teenager tend to make better decisions in cyber security."

That's because these individuals few this type of individual as a legitimate threat and act accordingly, Wash explained. They recognize that the thief could be a next-door neighbor, child's classmate or a person standing behind them at a retail store checkout line. As a result, they consistently keep their guard up and know that the responsibility for their online security rests on their own shoulders. They aim to take a proactive approach to online security, rather than waiting to react to a cyber threat.

Those who tend to believe hackers are foreign individuals, on the other hand, put themselves in greater danger. These individuals are more likely to view cyber thieves as professionals who target lucrative victims — and as a result, don't tend to take the proper precautions when dealing with cyber safety. They are quicker to believe “it won't happen to me" or “the threat is far off and distant."

Wash emphasized, “we all have small supercomputers in our pockets now." He said “regular people like you and me make a lot of important security decisions on a daily basis."

In short, Wash's research serves as a friendly reminder that, unfortunately, anyone can become a victim of identity theft and it's each individual's responsibility to make the right decisions. This begins with making sure important security measures — ranging from complex and regularly-updated passwords and secure Internet connections to anti-virus software — are all in place, and remembering on a daily basis that online security and data breaches are a real threat.

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