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UK adults taking online password security risks

April 23, 2013

  • Over half of UK adults use the same password to access internet sites
  • One in four use birthdays or names as passwords
  • Older internet users are turning to social networking to stay in touch
  • Average UK adult has 237 social network friends

UK adults are risking their online security by using identical or easy to remember passwords on the websites they visit, new Ofcom research reveals.

More than half (55%) of adult internet users admit they use the same password for most, if not all, websites, according to Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2013.

Meanwhile, a quarter (26%) say they tend to use easy to remember passwords such as birthdays or names, potentially opening themselves up to the threat of account hacking.

Remembering passwords also remains a challenge for some, with a quarter (25%) of adult internet users reporting they have problems doing so.

However, Ofcom’s report does show that adult internet users are increasingly adopting security methods while going online. Six in ten (62%) say they protect their Wi-Fi internet connection (up from 52% in 2011) and 61% say they make judgements such as checking for padlock symbols or secure system messages before entering personal details (compared to 56% in 2011).

Among smartphone owners, three in four (75%) say they use a screen lock, with half (50%) stating they have PIN protection for their SIM card. This is higher than for non-smartphone users, where these features are used by 40% and 20% respectively.

James Thickett, Ofcom’s Director of Research, said: “While our research shows that some people are still taking security risks online, they clearly feel these are outweighed by the benefits that the internet brings. We are seeing more and more adults turning to the internet for information and as a way of keeping in touch.”

Older users driving increase in social networking

Ofcom’s research also reveals that older internet users are increasingly turning to social networking to keep in touch with their friends and family.

Over a third (35%) of 55 to 64 year-old internet users now have a social networking profile – up by half in just one year (24% in 2011).

A quarter (25%) of internet users aged 65 and over also say they have a profile. The increase means that overall about two thirds (64%) of all adult internet users say they have a social networking presence, up from 59% in 2011.

Older users, like their younger counterparts, predominantly use social networking as a way of keeping in touch with their friends and family, with six in ten (64%) of those aged over 55 with a profile using the sites to contact friends and family they rarely see.

Ofcom’s research also reveals that the average UK adult with a social networking account has 237 friends on their main profile, such as Facebook. Younger adults have more online connections, with the average 16-24 year-old social networker claiming 352 friends, almost three times as many as those aged over 45 (126 friends).

Social networking is also now a part of daily lives for many, as half of adults (50%) with a profile visit more than once a day, up from a third (35%) in 2011. Almost one in ten (9%) adults is an avid user, checking their profile more than ten times a day. Those aged 16-24 are the most likely to do so, with almost a fifth (17%) checking for updates more than ten times daily.

Increase in time spent online, despite one in five visiting fewer than 5 websites a week

Ofcom’s research shows that internet usage has continued to grow, with the average adult internet user estimating they now spend almost 17 hours online every week (16.8 hours a week, up from 15.1 in 2011). Meanwhile, reported incidents of spam, viruses and phishing emails by internet users have all remained stable compared to 2011 (52%, 25% and 26% respectively).

Adults are now using a wide range of devices to go online, with almost one in six (16%) using a tablet computer and over half (53%) using their mobile phone. This is even higher for smartphone users, with 86% using their device to go online.

The average adult internet user claims to visit 19 different websites in a typical week, with men visiting more sites than women on average (24 vs 14). However, despite the increasing length of time spent online, over a fifth (22%) of adults say they visit fewer than five websites in a typical week.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Ofcom’s Adults media use and attitudes report is available at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/media-literacy/media-lit-research/adults-2013/. The report on media literacy covers the use and attitudes of UK adults across the key platforms of the internet, television, radio, games and mobile phones.
  2. 1805 adults aged 16 and over were interviewed as part of the research.
  3. Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to promote media literacy in the UK. Under Section 14 (6a) of the Act we have a duty to make arrangements for the carrying out of research into the matters mentioned in Section 11 (1).
  4. Ofcom works with a range of bodies such as UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) (http://www.education.gov.uk/ukccis/) and Get Safe Online (http://www.getsafeonline.org/) to support their work in the areas raised in this research.

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