NordVPN’s Research Lab has been busy. Looking back across our ten most striking studies from the last year, three key lessons emerge.
Lesson 1: The dangers are real
It’s all too easy to dismiss the threat posed by hackers and online criminals. “I have nothing to hide” is a common refrain from people who don’t see the point in taking precautions to protect their private data.
However, our research has shown time and again that these dangers are real, can be costly and disruptive, and can happen to anyone.
Hackers want your payment card details
A staggering 9 in 10 people surveyed by NordVPN said they knew at least one person who had a social media account hacked in the past.
Ten years ago, that might have been less of an issue, but today social media accounts are used to log into multiple other services (including emails, payment platforms, and more) and can often be linked to payment cards.
Stolen data is a multi-million dollar industry
If you think hackers can’t make money stealing your payment card data, think again. We analyzed a database of 4 million stolen payment cards which were found for sale on the dark web. According to our findings, the average cost for information relating to one card was $10.
It’s not just credit and debit card details that can be sold online. Our research revealed that hackers can make millions peddling all kinds of stolen data, from passwords to social security numbers.
That information can then be used by other criminals for identity theft, phishing attacks, and other forms of fraud.
Lesson 2: Awareness is growing (but not fast enough)
It’s not all bad news, though. Since last International VPN Day, we’ve tracked a growing awareness of cybersecurity issues among the general public.
People are worried about their internet safety
Most internet users are concerned about their safety online. This manifests in a number of areas. Eighty-five percent of respondents to our summer survey said they were worried about being hacked while traveling, and that’s a very legitimate concern. Using hotel Wi-fi and hotspots on public transport can expose your data to hackers, which is why using a VPN on holiday is more important than ever.
In another report from our Research Lab, 63% of those surveyed stated that they were afraid of being tracked by cybercriminals. That’s a good sign because this data shows that people understand that the internet is associated with risks. That understanding could lead many to take precautions and protect their data online.
Awareness and action are two different things
While awareness is growing, it’s clear that many internet users still don’t know what actions they can take to enhance their data security. For evidence, just look at our global survey, in which we asked people what personal information they’d like to remove from the internet completely.
More than 40% of respondents in all countries surveyed said they didn’t know how to remove their data from the internet. Less than 20% were confident they could limit their online exposure.
People can remove data from the internet or stop it getting there in the first place in various ways, from direct data removal requests to VPN use. Yet as awareness of the problems grows, understanding of these solutions is not yet widespread.
What does the future hold in this area? Well, it’s a mixed bag; growing awareness is good, but it doesn’t guarantee improvements. According to one NordVPN survey, even though 87% of respondents are worried about privacy issues related to the metaverse, 74% are still willing to use it when possible.
Lesson 3: Safe online habits are the key to security
The most important lesson we’ve learned this year is that safe online habits are still key to online security.
Bad habits help hackers
Our National Privacy Test showed that bad habits and human error are huge facilitators of risky data exposure. Using weak passwords, oversharing on social media, clicking links without making sure they’re authentic — a few moments of carelessness is all a hacker might need to slip through our defenses.
By the same token, maintaining good everyday habits online can go a long way to preventing unwanted leaks and hacks. If we make sure to use long, complex passwords, routinely update our security software, and use security tools like VPNs and antimalware, we can improve our privacy and security dramatically.
Internet addiction is on the rise
Our Lifetime Online study revealed that, on average, most people spend a third of their lives online. In fact, 65% of people can’t even go to the toilet without their smartphone, according to our research.
Our social lives, banking, work, and medical history are all growing increasingly integrated with digital platforms, and that means hackers have more targets than ever before. Implementing good daily habits online is essential if we’re going to continue to live our lives online.
What can you do to stay safe this year?
Cybersecurity doesn’t become any less important after International VPN Day, so what can you do in the year ahead to make sure your data stays protected?
- Implement good internet habits. Implement small everyday changes, like updating your passwords to make them more secure or running an antivirus scan on your computer. Improving practical safety habits will make all of your data more secure and lowers the likelihood of your own mistakes being exploited by hackers.
- Exercise caution. While we’re not recommending a state of constant paranoia, approaching the internet with caution and a good awareness of the many threats you face is important. If you see an ad for an offer that seems too good to be true or receive an email urging you to click a link to claim a prize, be on your guard.
- Use a VPN. Of course, we can’t let International VPN Day go by without recognizing the importance of VPNs. These powerful cybersecurity tools wrap your data in powerful encryption and shield your IP address as well as offer a range of extra features. For example, NordVPN comes with built-in Threat Protection, a service that blocks ads and trackers and protects you from known malware sources.