The Best Security Tool Is Your Own Common Sense

Earlier this week, Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (popularly known as BSI) has released their Digital Barometer 2019 (in German), a public survey of private German households that measured their opinions and experience with matters of cybersecurity. Looking at the results, one cannot but admit that they do not look particularly inspiring and that they probably represent the average situation in any other developed country…

According to the study, every fourth respondent has been a victim of cybercrime at least once. The most common types of those include online shopping fraud, phishing attacks or viruses. Further 30% of participants have expressed strong concerns, believing that the risk of becoming such a victim is very high for them. Somewhat unsurprisingly, these concerns do not translate into consistent protection measures. Only 61% of surveyed users have an antivirus program installed, less than 40% update their computers regularly and only 5% opt for such “advanced” technologies as a VPN.

I’m not entirely sure, by the way, how to interpret these results. Did BSI count users running Windows and thus having a very decent antivirus installed by default as protected? And what about iPhone owners who are not given any opportunity to secure their devices even if they wished to do so? Also, it’s quite amusing that the creators of the survey consider email encryption a useful cybersecurity measure. Even weirder is the inclusion of regular password change (a practice that has long been proven useless and is no longer recommended by NIST, for example) but a notable lack of any mentions of multi-factor authentication.

More worrying statistics, however, show that although the absolute majority of users have strong concerns about their online safety, very few actually consider themselves sufficiently informed about the latest developments in this area and even fewer actually implement those recommendations.

The results also clearly indicate that victims of cybercrime have not much faith in the authorities and mostly deal with consequences themselves or turn to friends and family. Less than a third of such crimes end up reported to the police, which means that we should take the official cybercrime statistics (which incidentally show that the rate of such crimes in Germany has grown 8% last year) with a grain of salt – the real number might be much higher.

The rest of the report talks about various measures the government, BSI and police should develop to tackle the problem, but I don’t think that many users will see any notable changes in that regard: their online safety is still largely their own concern… So, what recommendations KuppingerCole could give them?

  • Do not blindly spend money on security tools without understanding your risks and how those tools can (or cannot) mitigate them. Most home users do not really need another antivirus or firewall – the ones built into Windows are quite good already. However, corporate users require an efficient, multi-level security approach. Defining a tailored security portfolio therefore is an important challenge.
  • In fact, investing in a reliable off-site backup solution would make much more sense: even if your device is compromised and your files are destroyed by ransomware, you could always restore them quickly. A good backup will also protect from many other risks and prevent you from losing an important document to simple negligence or a major natural disaster. And by the way: Dropbox and Google Drive are not backup solutions.
  • Activating multi-factor authentication for your online services will automatically protect you from 99% of hackers and fraudsters. It is crucial to do it consistently: not just for your online banking, but for email and social media platforms. By making your accounts impossible to hijack you’re protecting not just yourself, but your online friends as well.
  • Quite frankly, the best security tool is your own common sense. Checking a suspiciously looking email for some obvious indicators of fraud or asking your colleague whether they actually used an obscure website to send you an urgent document before opening it: in most cases, this simple vigilance will help you more than any antivirus or firewall.

For more complicated security-related questions, you can always talk to us!


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