Around the year 2000, 28 Miami University students and 26 employees in American Electric Power’s Rate, Research and Design department took part in a survey designed to ascertain current levels of internet security.  What factor does age or frequency of use play in internet security?  Which online transactions are people less comfortable with?  How aware are people of recent hacking events and what effects does it have on their overall security?

Survey Says...

When interpreting the results of this survey, we looked for significant effects linking internet security to age, frequency of use, and recent hacking events.  The online transactions used were online banking, e-commerce, giving out personal information to join organizations, dispensing personal information to others met in chats, giving out email address, making travel arrangements, e-trade, and downloading programs and files to a personal computer.  To gather a general feel for overall internet security, we combined the various online activities and then compared the various factors.  The different transactions were also looked at individually and the factors considered. 

Key for Charts

·         a = Adults

·         s = Students

·         f = Frequent Users

·         o = Occasional Users

·         s = Seldom Users

·         y = Yes - aware of hacking events

·         n = No – aware of hacking events 

What are the differences in internet security between the students and the adults?

These findings are somewhat surprising in their evenness – one might assume the students would be more nonchalant in their approach and the adults more cautious.  However, adults and students are both frequent computer users and display the same degree of security when performing online transactions overall.  When we broke it down into the individual online activities, students reported feeling much more secure about downloading programs and files onto their personal computers, F(1,52)=4.597,p=.037.

The only other individual category that deviated from the average concerned sharing email address; adults are slightly less comfortable dispensing this information than students are, but the results only approach significant numbers, F(1,52)=3.917,p=.053.  Adults possess much more awareness of recent hacking events compared to students (hey, we don’t have time to read the newspaper!), x2(1)=5.405,p=.02.

Do frequent users display any noticeable trend towards higher levels of internet security?

Contradictory to our predictions, there was no significant increase in users’ security proportional to their frequency of use.  While most of those surveyed reported frequent computer use, people using the internet occasionally or even seldom showed equal comfort levels overall.  The one significant result deals with e-commerce (purchasing goods online, giving credit card numbers).  More frequent computer users are mostly comfortable with shopping online.


Other individual online activities showed no considerable change between users.  Also, knowledge of recent hacking events displayed no effect among users of different frequencies.

So of those polled who reported awareness of recent hacking events, did this knowledge affect their level of internet security??

Actually, there was no evident connection between knowledge of hackers and levels of comfort pertaining to online transactions.  We had predicted that people who were more knowledgeable about recent hacking events would either be more cautious (since they know the possibilities) or more secure (because they understand how to protect themselves).  Neither was apparent, however, and security levels remained constant.

Overall, were there certain activities that people seemed more cautious about performing over the Internet??

The only individual area that showed a significant degree of overall caution was
dispensing information to others met in chat rooms (not an astounding result), t(52)=13.474,p<.001.  

On a final note, survey says that...

The last question on the survey was an open-ended one: 
If you are aware of recent hacking events, how has this affected how secure you feel??  
Here are some comments people had to offer.  As you can see, there are many parallels between what the students and the adults had to say.  This is very representative of our survey results, which found little difference between age groups concerning Internet security.


 “Some of these events have confirmed my fears, but overall, I continue my normal (cautious) activities online.”

 “I am uneasy overall – I keep my personal info…personal.”

 “I always check out security information before giving any credit card numbers, but I normally take the idealistic approach and think it won’t happen to me.”

 “If you research the site you are disclosing info on, you can find info supporting how safe it is to download or disclose info.”

 “I don’t have the lots of money and power they’d be after.”

 “Doesn’t bother me at all, most of these hacks are a joke or for fun.”


 “It has confirmed my skepticism about putting out certain personal information over the internet.  I’ll continue to wait and give more security opportunity to take hold.”

 “Added a firewall program on our home PC – didn’t change what I do online.”

 “I always look for the security information and reconcile credit card statements to insure that no fraudulent charges have been billed to me.  I never visit chat rooms.  Cyber-stalking is also a real concern of mine.”

 “I have no control over it and must rely on companies’ security procedures.”

 “Just hope it doesn’t negatively impact me.”

 “I have to go with what’s going on in the world and keep up with the times.”

 “If I wasn’t uneasy enough before, this has just secured my fears.”

 “Most hacking is against organizations, businesses, government, etc., not individuals.”

Bottom Line 

Concern raised, but definitely not deterred from use.

E-Commerce: Article Review

A look at some particular views on e-commerce –- a Canadian perspective and from the point-of-view of the credit card companies and financial institutions.


          Friedman, Matthew.  ‘Fear of hackers keeps businesses off the Internet.’  Computing Canada.  Nov. 9, 1999.

 Canadian businesses are afraid of the Internet and believe opening their businesses online is the equivalent of sending a digital invitation to the underground hacker elite to come steal all their information.  They worry about things they don’t really understand and buy security products they may not even need because of the press, the entertainment industry, and the advertising of companies like IBM.  At least according to Andre Chartier, a senior security consultant with the DMR Group in Montreal.  He says, “There was such bad press about hackers and Internet security that it is not surprising that people are still afraid.”  The point is that Canadian businesses are so surrounded by media influences that they fail to realize the potential for business on the Internet, and in truth, how secure it really is.  In Chartier’s opinion, security is not a matter of technology and protective software (firewalls, etc.) but of human error and procedure.  “It’s like sex, if you’re not careful and you poke a hole in your condom, you may not pick up a disease – but then again, there is a chance you will.”  Basically, people just need to be conscientious and careful – but not afraid.  “Fear isn’t the correct response.”  Movies like The Net, to TV shows like The X-Files, and other hacker lore promoted by such companies as Big Blue promotes false images of the big, bad hacker coming to take away all you data.


          Anonymous.  ‘A hacker confirms fears of card fraud.’  Credit Card Management.  Feb. 2000.

 Despite all the lingering fears over purchasing merchandise online with credit card information, this past holiday season saw the steady rise of its popularity.  It appears electronic commerce has been accepted as millions of Americans chose to do their shopping sitting in front of their computer screens.  eUniverse announced that one of its subsidiaries, CD Universe, had been hacked and customer data stolen.  These 25,000 numbers were then posted on an Internet site by a hacker known as Maxus.  Worried customers continue to shop online despite this news when the company promises to improve its security standards.


          Dernovsek, Darla.  ‘Managing on-line risk.’  Credit Union Magazine.  Nov. 1999.

 Credit unions and other financial institutions are among the top targets for online criminals according to the experts.  Roger Nebel, vice president of HomeCom Internet Security Services says, “Because technology can’t keep up with the threat, you have to have the process in place to continually assess your risk.  Risk is the intersection of threat and vulnerability.”  However, none of your risk management matters if the customer is too frightened to use the Internet services provided by these financial institutions.  Hesitant members can find the faith in a system bolstered by as little as a reassurance that security issues are being assessed on a regular basis.  They become much more receptive when the there is less perceived threat.  “Credit unions need to realize that it isn’t just technology, but that people and processes are just as important,” Nebel says.  This means fostering attitudes, training workers, and making security a priority.


          McCormick, Colleen.  ‘Webbing the customer.’  Forbes.  Sept. 1998.

 ‘The Myths and Realities of Putting Customer Service Online’

Putting customer service online appears to be obvious – the greater speed, accessibility, and flexibility are readily apparent.  However, some issues need to be looked at before this can become a reality.  First of all, employees must be trained in web design that is easy for all to use.  Customers will not utilize a confusing interface.  Security issues need to be resolved so that people feel free dispensing the necessary sensitive information without fear of hackers.  
Back to Psybersite

This project was produced for PSY 380, Social Psychology of Cyberspace, Spring 2000, at Miami University.  All graphics in these pages are used with permission or under fair use guidelines, are in the public domain, or were created by the authors. Last revised: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at 12:52: %3 
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