Malware hits one in four computer users in Ireland

4 Oct 2011

One in four Irish computer users has had their computer crashed or otherwise damaged by viruses or malware, while one in five has had their computer infected or data stolen, according to a new survey.

Antivirus provider ESET Ireland commissioned the poll, conducted by Amárach Research, to establish what Irish computer users perceive as an online threat and how likely they think it is that something will happen to them. Among the options they were presented with was whether their computer could be crashed by malware and whether that could lead to their data being stolen. They were also asked about being scammed through email or social networks and identity or credit card theft.

The survey found 14pc of respondents said they had been hacked or had their social media accounts hijacked, and close to one in 10 people was cheated, had their credit cards or private information abused or their system was used to unknowingly dispatch spam.

More than 40pc of people believe any of the options presented in the survey could easily happen to them. ESET Ireland’s cyber crime analyst Urban Schrott said this could have several meanings. “Either they mistrust their antivirus protection or are aware that their security practices are not adequate compared to the sorts of threats they’re facing,” he said. 

Fewer than 4pc believe none of the outcomes could ever happen to them, and close to one-third believe it’s either not easy or very unlikely that they would become a victim.

The demographics of the people surveyed also revealed some interesting findings. While males and females were targeted indiscriminately and in equal proportions, it was the people aged 15-24 that experienced most computer crashes, virus infections and online and social media personality theft.

Stolen data or credit card theft most commonly occurred among an older generation, the 45-54 age group. Schrott said this might indicate that younger people tend to use computers mainly for gaming, entertainment and social media. A possible outcome is that pirated games, music and movies infect them with malware, while social interactions make them victims of identity theft. “Adults, however, tend to shop and bank online more, thus potentially exposing their financial details to abuse,” he said.

The survey questions only revealed the attitude people have towards threats and didn’t reflect what actions they take to try to prevent them, Schrott pointed out. “Awareness of online threats has finally reached a point where even if they’re fortunate enough not to have been a victim yet, the majority know that a great variety of threats exist out there and that everyone is targeted and could come under attack,” he concluded.

To obtain the results, Amárach polled 852 people of all ages and from all parts of Ireland by asking them to comment on six statements.

1.     My computer can be crashed or caused to malfunction by viruses or malware.

2.     Computer viruses or other malware can infect my computer/steal data/cause damage.

3.     Someone could hack into my email or social media and contact my friends pretending to be me.

4.     I could be cheated by scam emails or fraudulent social media messages.

5.     My private information/credit cards/identity could be stolen or misused online.

6.     Someone could access my computer online to steal my data/turn my computer into a malware or spam dispatching bot.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic