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Time to make sure you really have a secure computer or cellphone, with reliable security software!

We have written more than one of these pieces in the recent past, urging that everyone with a computer or a smartphone get serious about making sure that their use of the Internet is safe and secure with one or more protective programs – but we find that just how to do that still seems to be baffling to people. Some decide they are as secure as they need to be simply by using a free antivirus program; others figure that if their computer came with an installed antivirus program in a "30-day trial" that they are somehow protected indefinitely. They are overlooking a couple of important points. One: Free security programs are seldom as effective as the paid versions – or the companies that issue them would never make the money needed for them to maintain and update the programs! In the rare case where a reputable company offers a free security program that actually does something useful, their paid version is always better – and bear in mind that if the program is free, the user will be using it at their own risk, whereas with a paid program its issuer has some responsibility for its abilities. Commonly when there is a free program from a reputable issuer, the program might indeed pick up and identify viruses and malware on your device – but would rely on the user then electing to subscribe to the paid version to actually block or remove it. THE BEE advocates always paying for a security program, and never letting it lapse! You get what you pay for.

We recently received, as a subscriber to Malwarebytes – one of three complementary, paid security programs we simultaneously use on our computers – a report which may carry more weight with you than simply our own observations. So we asked Malwarebytes in Santa Clara, California, for permission to reprint it for you here:

If the Internet were as safe and as private as it is essential for everyday life – it's increasingly required for job applications, bank transfers, doctor's appointments, and filing taxes – then we'd likely have fewer online scams, better privacy protections, smaller data breaches, and a lower overall risk of individual cybercrimes that can wreak havoc on a person's life.

Importantly, if the Internet were to achieve such a promise, then everyone – no matter their gender, race, income level, education, or age – could feel as safe and as private online as they deserve to be.

But according to our latest research, this is far from the case. Not only do a large number of people feel neither safe nor private on the Internet, but many groups – including women, teenagers, and those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) – feel less private and safe than their counterparts. Some of these populations said they suffered more frequent cyberattacks, more recent cyberattacks, and were more substantially stressed by the cyberattacks themselves.

In comparison, those who felt safer and sometimes more private online had higher incomes, higher levels of education, and more familiarity with cybersecurity tools, such as antivirus products, Virtual Private Networks, and password managers.

These are the findings in our "Demographics of Cybercrime" report, presented in partnership with Digitunity, a nationally recognized nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the technology gap – and Cybercrime Support Network, whose nonprofit mission is to serve individuals and small businesses impacted by cybercrime throughout the country.

In our report, we discovered that a collection of discrepancies – higher rates of social media hacking against younger generations, higher rates of identity theft against BIPOC consumers, lower rates of cybersecurity familiarity by women – coalesced into one unfortunate truth: The Internet is not equal for everyone online; and, because of it, not everyone trusts the Internet the same way.

A full 50 percent of all respondents said they do not feel private online, and 31 percent do not feel safe online. Women feel the least private (53 percent compared to 47 percent of men) and the least safe (35 percent compared to 27 percent of men), while teenagers do not feel particularly private, and BIPOC respondents do not feel very safe.

These feelings could sometimes be traced to the data itself. Women were twice as likely as men to say their identity was stolen because of earlier physical theft of their wallet or purse. Teenagers were, perhaps understandably, twice as likely as those aged 65 and up to have their social media accounts hacked. And BIPOC consumers were the least likely of all groups to avoid financial damage due to a cybercrime attack. Making matters worse, when BIPOC consumers did lose money, they lost more money on average than White consumers ($1,709 compared to $1,578).

In trying to better understand why these communities felt differently about the Internet, we also looked to external data on real-life experiences. We know that women are more likely to be targets of non-consensual pornography (sometimes called "revenge porn") and cyberstalking; that those in BIPOC communities – including Asian Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics – suffer increased rates of online harassment; and that younger generations, surrounded by constant privacy scandals affecting the most popular social media platforms, likely can never remember a day in which the Internet was ever "private",

The good news is that we can collectively improve the Internet experiences of everyone.

In our research, we found a clear trend between cybersecurity familiarity and feelings of safety online. As familiarity increased, so, too, did feelings of safety. But for the single tool that can most likely help consumers handle online threats like malware and malicious websites – which is antivirus/antimalware protection – respondents showed a concerning lack of comfort. A full 21 percent of respondents (a little more than one in five) were neither "familiar" or "very familiar" with antivirus tools, and just 67 percent of all respondents said they had used antivirus products themselves. Those trends are even worse for women, teenagers, and BIPOC individuals.

Clearly, the cybersecurity community can help. We have the tools and the expertise. With the findings from our report, we also have the knowledge that not every community is comfortable enough with our products to use them. It is on us to increase awareness and to build and deliver products that are accessible to every population.

That commentary was published in late September by Malwarebytes (www.Malwarebytes.com), which offers an excellent program for the detection and removal of malicious material distributed on the Internet. And it's good that they do feel some responsibility to assist consumers in making use of their, or other, antivirus and antimalware programs.

But, in the end, the responsibility is yours – and criminals on the Internet are out to take advantage of any consumer inaction. So here are a couple of principles. First, do not subscribe to an antivirus or antimalware program – for computers or smartphones – until you have made sure it is legitimate; because spam e-mails sometimes tout antivirus programs that are actually malware!! Do an Internet search to make sure the program is both legitimate and effective before you install it. And, second, if it passes that test, get the paid version – and set it to "auto-renew" so it cannot lapse without your knowing about it. Technically-inclined friends can often suggest good antivirus and antimalware programs; computer providers and wireless companies can do the same (although, bear in mind that when a new computer comes with some antivirus already installed, it is not necessarily the best – the computer maker was paid to put it, and a few other programs, on your computer. And after a short trial period, that sample antivirus program will expire and stop working unless you pay to subscribe to it, by which time you might have identified a better alternative). We're just trying to keep you safe and unexploited here! Just as we all would not be having a coronavirus pandemic still ongoing if everyone would take the readily-available and effective vaccine – all these swindles that people fall victim to from viruses and malware would not be as much of a problem, if everyone had effective antivirus and antimalware on their computer, their smartphone, and indeed on any device that connects to the Internet. And of course, do not click on too-good-to-be-true offers and impersonated messages in unsolicited e-mails – NO antivirus can protect you from your own gullibility! A word to the wise!


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