Tapping into the online security behaviour and perception of Maltese society in cyber space

Trends in Modern Society

The use of technology is increasingly forming an integral part of Maltese society. It is changing the way people live, behave and interact in their day to day lives. Through its use of cyberspace, coupled with mobile devices, it is extending beyond the confines of home bound PCs, leading to availability even of sensitive personal data, whenever and wherever it is needed. Thus, in effect, new challenges including those of security and privacy are arising.

In order for such progress in the use of technology to succeed, it is therefore important that cyber security is given a higher profile in society and that it becomes an ongoing collective responsibility. Such mindset calls for cyber awareness and computer hygiene to become an integral part of digital education and literacy programmes for citizens.

One Step to Action

With this aim in mind, and in line with the implementation of the National Cyber Security Strategy, launched in late 2016, MITA, under the direction of the National Cyber Security Strategy Steering Committee within the remit of the Parliamentary Secretariat for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, is conducting a Cyber Security Awareness and Education Campaign.

As one of its initial activities within the Campaign, MITA has recently conducted a four week-long online survey, through one of the mainstream Social Media channels.   The survey aimed to assess the current level of awareness, practices and perception of the Maltese public on cyber security. Over 300 people participated in the survey, with a roughly equal balance between those over 55 years of age and those under; and a slight majority of female over male respondents.  Based on the survey outcome, a number of indicative insights could be drawn. Although, overall, the traits are encouraging, yet further focus on the specific outcomes merit further considerations, as indicated below.

Security Applications and Security Updates

Just half of the respondents state that they install security applications. A larger majority however claim that they allow software updates/patches to be conducted. One key reason cited by those not performing both good practices, especially among the elderly generation, is a lack of knowledge of what to do or what to install. The younger generation, on the other hand, tend to forego such practices on the premise that they can be done without.

Critical Applications and their Access in Public Wi-Fis 

It appears that the majority of respondents do understand the need to avoid accessing, critical applications such as emails, work/productivity and other online services, through public unprotected wi-fi. However, there appears to be a tendency among the younger generation to access their personal social media accounts even through open unprotected public Wi-Fis.

Passwords and Backups 

The majority of respondents tend to follow best practices related to passwords including password composition. However, of concern is that the majority of respondents have indicated that they use the same password to various accounts. A substantial number from the elder generation also appear to slack on password frequency change, especially for emails and other online applications potentially carrying critical information. Such tendency, particularly among the elderly is also indicated with respect to frequency of backups.

Secure Online Payments, Privacy Settings and other Good Practices

Although the majority of respondents have indicated favourable use of a number of good practices for use in conducting online payments, yet there appears to be a need for further awareness especially among the elderly generation. The same trend applies with respect to the applicability of privacy settings on their personal social media accounts. The younger generation are more apt to apply privacy settings than the elderly generation. However, of particular concern among the younger generation is a prevalence, although among a minority, of those who claim that they communicate with unknown individuals online, or who are not too wary on giving away personal information or online access. The elder generation, on the other hand appear more prone to open attachments or click on links easily in suspicious emails or not to scan memory sticks for viruses prior to their use on devices.

Key Perceptions 

Although the majority of respondents understand their responsibility to maintain and protect their own personal data, yet the majority, especially the middle aged and the elderly, feel that they are somewhat or not informed on cyber security at all. Such viewpoint calls for a more targeted and relentless campaign so as to improve and enhance cyber security recognition and ultimately cyber preparedness of Maltese society.

Preferred Communication Channels 

The survey has sought to contribute to a better understanding and thus for a more effective delivery of such a campaign. Through the survey outcome, modern communication media including Social Media, followed by Online news, appear to be the most preferred channels of communication; especially by those who have pursued above a secondary level of education. Traditional forms of communication are especially preferred among those having reached a secondary level of education, with TV and Radio ranked as the third most preferred media channel to be used for cyber awareness. It is followed by preferences towards a dedicated Website and   printed material such as brochures and leaflets to households. Interactive sessions also appear to be appealing, albeit to a smaller extent, especially amongst the younger generations.

Concluding Note

In a nutshell, the survey has provided an initial insight of where, how and in what areas of basic cyber hygiene do the cyber awareness and education efforts need to be expended in the coming period, taking into particular focus the various segments of the Maltese society. In this regard, it shall complement the implementation of a more focused and intense National Cyber Security Education and Awareness Campaign that shall be launched on 16th October by the Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, Hon. Silvio Schembri, in collaboration with MITA and the National Cyber Security Strategy Steering Committee.

Ultimately, combined with such campaign, the survey outcome shall serve as an initial gauge, albeit indicative, of the level of maturity of the population, in not simply embracing technology, but most of all, in applying it responsibly, securely and with due care for the ultimate well- being and safety of society.

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