Consumers' Online Security Concerns Rising

by Tim Gray

A new study suggests that authentication technologies may help regain users' trust.

The seemingly never-ending barrage of fraud and identity theft on the Internet this year has continued to drive consumer fears skyward, according to a survey released today by RSA Security and LightSpeed Research.

However, the survey also shows that consumers are still willing to increase the amount of personal business they do online, provided banks and other online services offer them strong authentication.

Nearly half of the 8,000 people responding to the study said they would switch to bank or business accounts that offered strong authentication options. And two-thirds were willing to move more of their transactions to online services offering a hardware authenticator.

"Consumers clearly want to stay active online, but they have effectively thrown down the gauntlet for the banks, brokerages, Web e-mail services, auction sites, and myriad other businesses to whom they entrust their personal information," Chris Young, vice president of consumer authentication services at RSA Security, said in a statement.

The findings, Young points out, provide a contrast to the February 2005 RSA Security study that showed security concerns were forcing many consumers offline completely. In that survey, nearly one-fourth of respondents were reducing their online shopping and one-fifth said they wouldn't work with their financial institutions over the Internet.

"Just when consumers were beginning to understand the required elements of secure electronic commerce -- such as lock icons on their browsers -- they have been plunged into the realization that attackers are working hard to extract and exploit personal information," Trent Henry, a senior analyst with the Burton Group, said in a statement. "As a result, enterprises are looking for ways to improve the technologies and processes used by customers in the online realm, both to rebuild trust and to reduce the likelihood of identity theft and related problems."

Although the fear of scammers still exist, this latest survey suggests banks and other online merchants still have an opportunity to gain trust.

"These account providers are therefore facing an extraordinary business opportunity," Young said. "By offering hardware authenticators, they can up the volume of online transactions, thus increasing the lifetime value of their customers while reducing transaction and retention costs. There are also ample soft benefits, including greater customer satisfaction and trust and confidence in the company brand."

The survey also said 40 percent more consumers were very likely to subscribe to such a network than were very likely to sign up for tokens that work on individual sites. Slightly less than 83 percent of all respondents felt threatened or extremely threatened by identity theft, and 83.2 percent felt threatened or extremely threatened by online fraud.

These fears extended at nearly identical levels across all types of online account holders, though Web mail and portal users showed the highest percentage of extreme concern. With regard to specific accounts, respondents were most concerned about fraudulent access to their online bank accounts.

"Given these security concerns even among the most ardent and sophisticated of online consumers, delivering stronger forms of protection against online account fraud must be a top priority," said Young. "Whether it's building a service that offers a single authentication method across multiple web accounts, or providing a choice of easy-to-use devices that match a consumer's lifestyle and tech-savvy, businesses can no longer wait to educate and protect consumers online."

  This article was originally published on Friday Aug 19th 2005
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