Written By: Security.org Team | Published: April 3, 2020

By the Security.org research team | Updated April 6, 2020

With most Americans under some form of stay-at-home restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Americans are purchasing more products and groceries online, downloading new apps, and telecommuting. At the same time, there are new phishing and identity theft scams aiming to take advantage of these new habits.

We asked American adults about their online habits over the past two weeks, their general feelings about the safety of their personal and financial information, and what steps they are taking to keep their data secure.

Key Findings

  • Nearly 40 percent of Americans report “working from home” with a personal computer (compared to 10 percent with a business computer); meanwhile most are not using a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
  • Record numbers of Americans are ordering food or groceries online (43 percent), downloading new apps (57 percent) or signing up for a new service (21 percent) in the last two weeks.
  • Seventy-one percent of Americans report being “concerned” or “very concerned” about the security of their personal and financial information.
  • Fifty percent are “very” or “extremely” confident they are taking the appropriate online safety precautions.
  • Men are more confident than women that they are taking appropriate precautions (59 percent vs. 47 percent), yet more men than women report being a previous victim of online hacking or theft (68 percent vs. 60 percent).
  • Many Americans do not follow recommended digital privacy practices, including using a VPN (24 percent), always or rarely using a different password (53 percent), disabling cookies or using a private browser (22 percent) or disabling geolocation data (23 percent).

Americans are shopping, banking, and working on personal computers

Just last year, studies showed that 81 percent of Americans reported never buying groceries online and 76 percent had not purchased any food delivery (including restaurants) online.

Contrast that with the past two weeks, where a whopping 43 percent said they bought food or groceries online. Tens of millions of Americans are signing up for new services, downloading new apps and conducting financial transactions in new ways and record numbers. Most Americans, 57 percent, said they downloaded at least one new app in the last two weeks, and 21 percent signed up for a new online service.

A surprising finding was that many more people are working from home on personal computers than on company computers, 38 percent vs. 11 percent. There have been concerns in recent weeks that this rise in working from home and using video conferencing represents a security risk and leaves companies vulnerable to data breaches.

Americans have digital privacy concerns

So how do Americans feel about their personal data security? Seventy-one percent are “concerned” or “very concerned” about their personal and financial information being stolen, while less than five percent are not worried at all.

When asked if they were confident, many Americans feel they are taking the appropriate precautions. The most popular answer was “somewhat confident” when asked about safety measures being taken. More men than women feel “extremely” or “very” confident in the steps they are taking to stay secure online with these sentiments making up 59 percent of men surveyed and only 45 percent of women.

Most Americans have anti-virus software, but fall short in other areas of data security

Seventy percent reported having up to date anti-virus software on their personal computers, which can detect and remove malicious software. However, 45 percent are connecting to public wi-fi at least weekly and only 24 percent ever use a VPN, which can keep online browsing secure from thieves.

Most Americans have been victims of personal data theft

Concerns about data security seem to be warranted given that over 60 percent of respondents reported falling victim to some kind of hack, scam, or financial information theft. The most common answer was having had a computer virus, followed closely by email and social media hacks, and stolen credit card information. More male respondents than female respondents reported being the victim of some kind of theft or hack, despite males reporting higher levels of confidence in their preparedness for such attacks.

Here are steps Americans can take for identity theft protection.

About Security.org Research and This Study

We asked more than 500 American adults aged 18+ on March 25th a set of detailed questions about their online purchases, activities, and digital privacy habits. Security.org's research team focuses on digital safety and identity theft. What it means to be safe has expanded beyond just home security and means protecting our personal and financial data and digital footprint. We study the issues facing modern society and partner with organizations and research institutions to broader America's understanding and awareness of digital safety.