October 20, 2015 By David Strom 2 min read

When it comes to security best practices, there is an ocean of difference between the security expert and the common user — at least according to a recent survey that compared several hundred people from the two populations. The study, “‘…no one can hack my mind’: Comparing Expert and Non-Expert Security Practices,” was based on the responses of two different groups: 231 security experts (with 40 of the interviews conducted in person) and 294 ordinary users drawn from frequent Amazon Mechanical Turk users.

Security Best Practices Differ Greatly Across Groups

The main differences in actions between the two segments include applying software updates, using a password manager and employing multifactor authentication (MFA) techniques.

“Our findings highlight fundamental misunderstandings about basic online security practices,” a Google blog post explained. “Software updates, for example, are the seat belts of online security; they make you safer, period. And yet, many nonexperts not only overlook these as a best practice, but also mistakenly worry that software updates are a security risk.”

Those varying viewpoints are mirrored in the numbers. The survey found that 35 percent of experts, but only 2 percent of nonexperts, had installing software updates as a top security priority. That wasn’t the only discrepancy: The timing of the updates also differed between the two groups. Google surveyed how many were using a password manager: 73 percent of experts did, while only 24 percent of nonexperts said they used one.

As one expert told Google, “Password managers change the whole calculus because they make it possible to have both strong and unique passwords.” Many nonexperts thought the better strategy was just to remember their passwords rather than trusting any digital tool.

Another difference in security best practices was in the reliance by nonexperts on the use of antivirus software. While experts generally acknowledge the benefits of these tools, they believe such software gives users a false sense of security. A total of 42 percent of the nonexperts listed antivirus solutions as one of their top protective technologies, compared to only 7 percent of the experts.

How Can We Close the Gap?

The Google survey highlighted the idea that the best strategy is to provide the right security awareness training to non-“experts.” For more specifics on forming a plan, read these four steps you can take to protect your organization from data breaches, which provide a framework for how organizations can promote a strong culture of security in their enterprise.

Second, users should better understand and apply technologies such as password managers and MFA to enhance their security posture. Both of these technologies are low-cost but have a big impact. They are also often at the core of any security improvement plan.

Finally, IT managers need to provide guidance on how to strengthen users’ online logins with the tools that vendors such as Google, Dropbox, Amazon Web Services and others offer. This includes using longer, more complex passwords, regularly reviewing your security settings and not reusing passwords on critical accounts such as financial services and proprietary corporate logins.

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